Resorts being built around Sundarbans one after another

A resort is being built on a landfill on the banks of the river and a concrete road is also being constructed. The picture was taken from West Dhangmari village adjacent to the Sundarbans on 1 May.Prothom Alo

Resorts one after another are being built in the ecologically critical area adjacent to the World Heritage Sundarbans.

Meanwhile, 14 resorts have already been established, filling up canals and felling trees of the forest in Khulna and Satkhira.

The construction of eight more resorts is underway. Noisy generators are being operated while air conditioners (ACs) have been installed in most of the resorts.

It is not good to establish resorts in the forest in this way.
Department head at environment science discipline of Khulna University, Abdullah Harun Chowdhury

According to the Environment Conservation Act, ten kilometers around the Sundarbans have been declared an ecologically critical area. Construction of establishments or any sort of activities are completely prohibited in these areas harming the natural characteristics in the area.

However, defying the prohibition, these resorts have been built causing harm to the forest. Water, sound and earth pollution are increasing in the surrounding areas of resorts. Wild animals are leaving the area.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo about the matter, former chief forest conservator and nature conservation affairs international agencies alliance IUC local former director Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed, said, "The Sundarbans is already in danger. Various types of threats including the establishment of factories around Sundarbans are increasing. Of resorts are being built illegally, the condition will deteriorate further. The establishments of resorts have to be stopped."

This resort is being built as Junglebari Mangrove Resort near the Sundarbans. Construction is going on. The picture was taken from West Dhangmari village at Banishanta union of Dacope in Khulna on 1 May.
Photo: Prothom Alo

Resorts increased four fold

There were three eco cottages in Mongla of Bagerhat and Dacope of Khulna surrounding Sundarbans in 2018. The number didn't increase till 2021. Later construction of resorts increased unabated. Two professors in Khulna University recently conducted a baseline study over community-based ecotourism around the Sundarbans.

According to the study, the number of resorts increased to 12 in a span of two years in 2023. Some 260 tourists would stay in 74 rooms in 12 resorts in 2023. Eight more cottages with 58 rooms are being built in the current year. Work is going on to built 42 more rooms in the seven old cottages. Capacity of 20 cottages at the end of 2024 will stand at 560 tourists.

Khulna environment directorate director Md Iqbal Hossain said as per the government's ECA guideline, establishments cannot be constructed 10 kilometers surrounding the Sundarbans. The cottages have been constructed flouting the guidelines, resulting in harming the Sundarbans. A joint decision involving all has to be taken to find a solution.

A total of two resorts have been constructed at Shyamnagar of Satkhira. The two-storey Barsa Resort has been built on several acres of land. A local NGO named Barsa is the owner of the resort. This was built in 2011. There are various arrangements including auditorium, parking, generators, AC, private jetty and speed boats.

The resort's manager Md Amanullah said he doesn't think the use of AC or generator is causing any harm.

Another resort named Tiger Point with similar arrangements has been built in Munshiganj of Shyamnagar adjacent to the Sundarbans. Satkhira-based NGO Sushilon owns this resort. This was established in 2009.

Shushilon's executive engineer Md Nuruzzaman thinks the use of AC or generators is not causing any harm.

There is a big ghat on the bank of the river in every resort. Stairs lead from there into the river.
Photo: Prothom Alo

Cottage along the river

Some cottages have been built in Mongla, Dhangmari of Dacope and Shyamnagar adjacent to the Sundarbans in the last couple of years. The highest number of cottages have been built in Dhangmari.

While visiting West Dhangmari and Koilash Ganj areas on 1 May, a village was found on the one side of 50-metre wide Dhangmari river and the Sundarbans is on the other side. Each resort has a big ghat on the bank of the river. Stairs lead into the river from there.

It was found that construction of seven cottages within three kilometers is going on. Along with building houses, a walkway with logs and woods is being constructed in a big area along the river. The construction of an eco cottage named 'Junglebari' is nearing an end.

The construction of another resort near the resort named 'Golkanon' is also nearing an end. The water body has been filled up with sand for constructing this.

While visiting the spot, some establishments including a kitchen have been built inside the embankment. perishable and nonperishable items have been kept separately by digging a big ditch.

The people there said plastic waste is burned after a few days.

About the establishment of many cottages in the region, Dacope upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) Joydeb Chakraborty, speaking to Prothom Alo, said nobody came to take permission to construct resorts. He has disclosed in the district coordination meeting about the thing to be done.

As per estimated tourists in the cottage, some 370 tourists came in 2018. The number reached 7,562 in 2023.

The owners of cottages recently formed an organisation named 'Sundarbans Resort Owners Association. Speaking to Prothom Alo, organization's general secretary Imnul Islam said, "It is not like we have followed all the rules properly. Some things including waste management remain a challenge. We want formulation of a guideline. We don't want damages to the Sundarbans.

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Eco cottage in name

Although the cottages are called 'community-based eco cottage', there is no involvement of local people. The concepts that are of an eco cottage, those are not in all the cottages.

While visiting the spot, it was found that some big trees had been cut down to build these cottages amidst the trees. Natural water bodies have been harmed. Concrete has been used to make walkways, toilets and even in rooms. The number of trawlers ferrying tourists has increased with the increase of resorts. Local residents said sound boxes, intense light, generators and AC are used in the cottages. The use of generators and ACs has been confirmed in interior decoration and advertisements in the social media.

Dhangmari union parishad member Dilip Kumar Mandal said owners of cottages are outsiders. However, the price of land has increased due to the establishment of cottages. Employment has been created for some people. They are buying ducks, chickens and vegetables.

People concerned said lands have been taken on lease from the local people for 15-20 years to build cottages. Business starts after obtaining trade licenses and documents of lease.

Sources said except one all the resorts are established jointly. Most of the owners are involved in tourism and commerce. They have resort businesses in St Martin, Sajek and Srimangal. They have a houseboat in the haor.

Five tour and travel group's owners own the under-construction Junglebari Eco Resort. One of them, Zakaria Shaon, speaking to Prothom Alo, said the tourism businessmen had a desire to establish a resort in the Sundarbans much earlier. Mainly others are coming after seeing the success of some resorts built in the beginning. They don't want the environment to be harmed.

Golkanon is the first eco resort in the West Dhangmari village. A non-government organisation constructed the resort to reduce dependence of forest people on the forest. The income of this goes to eight local forest-dependent families.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, caretaker of the resort, Sripati Bachhar said, "The poor don't have the money needed for the construction of a resort. The cottages that are being built now are owned by outsiders. They need helping hands. Maybe the village people are doing the work."

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These establishments are being constructed by felling trees of mangrove forest
Photo: Prothom Alo

'Not good for the forest'

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Sundarbans West Forest department divisional officer Abu Naser Mahsin Hossain said the pollution of the cottages will have an impact on the forest. Besides, the owners take the tourists into the forest without permission of the forest department. So there is no scope to monitor whether the tourists are harming anything in the forest.

He said a guideline should be formulated immediately.

Department head at environment science discipline of Khulna University, Abdullah Harun Chowdhury said it is not good to establish resorts in the forest in this way.

He observed there will be an impact on the overall environment of the forest. On the one hand the area is being declared ECA while it is being used as a commercial area.

It will impact the way wild animals would move in the periphery of the forest.

(Kalyan Banarjee in Satkhira has supported in filing this report)

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam