A recent experience

Let me use a recent experience to explain the matter. A group of our friends, relatives and well-wishers are setting up an old people’s home in Shailan, Dhamrai. Around 80 destitute, elderly citizens will be provided shelter, clothing, food and primary health care here, free of charge. The construction of the four-storey building is nearing completion. The bedrooms, office, dining room and medical room are being furnished. Beneficiary selection will shortly commence.

A few hundred trees have been cut down on either side of the road near Hazrat Shahjalal Airport in the capital city to facilitate the construction of an elevated highway. Around 300 trees have been felled in Suhrawardy Udyan

Last week I received a message on my mobile phone from the site engineer, “Sir, there are some roots of the jackfruit tree in the foundation of the security room. What should we do?”

I replied, “No tree can be cut down under any circumstance. An alternative must be devised.”

He immediately responded, “So the security room can’t be built there.”

I replied rather brusquely, “I said, no tree can be cut down under any circumstance. Find an alternative. Use your head.”

The site engineer was adamant to remove the tree, “If we make the security room there without cutting down the tree, the floor will crack in the future.”

“If necessary, move the security room to the side of the canal,” came back my reply.

The site engineer gave up, “In Shaa Allah, we will find an alternative and will let you know.” He didn’t get to cut down the tree this time.

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There are only two fruit trees at the Shailan old people’s home. Other than providing shade, these trees provide 30 to 40 jackfruits a year. This can provide the residents of the home with jackfruit for at least two or three days during the season. Earlier, around 20 to 30 trees planted lovingly by the president of the home had been chopped down by the contractor. We only learnt about it after the damage was done.

Our president was extremely displeased. We informed the consultant firm of our displeasure. It’s the same scenario all over the country. Our architects, engineers and contractors have no qualms at all about cutting down trees. They simply go ahead in chopping down the trees. In many countries of the world, no tree can be cut without the permission of the local government, not even on one’s own property.

Trees destroyed in development projects

The most extensive extermination of trees is being carried out in the name of development projects around the country. Here are a few examples. A few hundred trees have been cut down on either side of the road near Hazrat Shahjalal Airport in the capital city to facilitate the construction of an elevated highway. Around 300 trees have been felled in Suhrawardy Udyan. Over one third of these trees were 30 to 40 years old. There are a multitude of such examples.

A policy must be adopted to ensure that the trees and the land of any project are protected as must as possible. Before bringing about any change in the land, alternatives must be sought. Rather than cutting down trees, ways of designing around the trees must be given thought

Development while keeping the environment safe

It was perhaps back in 2018 that my wife and I, after finishing a meeting at Berkley University in California, went to visit our friends Sunil and Pratibha Ghosh at their home on Walnut Street. The road to their house winded through the hills. On either side were beautiful houses, trees and forests. The roads and homes were built keeping the hills intact. Very few trees were felled. There were even trees coming out from within some of the homes which were built around the trees. In our countries, these matters are not taken into consideration in most cases when structures are being erected. When a project is designed, the site is assumed to be flat and bare. We must break away from such a mindset. That is our main problem. We must design buildings and infrastructure keeping the environment intact.

What is to be done

What is the way out of this crisis? First, a policy must be adopted to ensure that the trees and the land of any project are protected as must as possible. Before bringing about any change in the land, alternatives must be sought. Rather than cutting down trees, ways of designing around the trees must be given thought. Such technologies are being used all over the world now. If cutting down trees and making changes in the land is inevitable, then trees must be planted elsewhere to make up for the adverse effect.

Our architecture, engineering and technical studies must include discussions on construction while maintaining the nature of the land and keeping the trees intact. The Architects Institute of Bangladesh (AIB) and the Institute of Engineers Bangladesh (IEB) can play an effective role in this regard. They can take up training programmes to this end.

If after all this, the problem is still not solved, then legal action can be taken against those cutting down trees that are at least three years old or three foot high and also those who are careless about the land. In the master plan of the forest department, it is observed that other than the mangrove forest of the Sundarbans, almost all other forest land (66 per cent) in the country is at high risk of destruction. Alongside preventing the destruction of forests for construction, action must be taken to protect and expand the existing forests.

By any means, the land and the forests must be saved. Destroying forests for construction must be halted. If that can be done, then the celebrations of winning the war and Victory Day will bear actual relevance.

* Fouzul Kabir Khan is a former secretary of the Bangladesh government and an economist

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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