Chittagong Hill Tracts: Plight of Community Highlighted by Environmental Conservation Advocate
With the aim of preventing the disappearances of indigenous communities and the preservation of their natural environment in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the work of environmentalist Shahriar Caesar Rahman and associates with the Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) has been highlighted to expand greater public awareness. Due to the influx of settlers from other parts of Bangladesh, not only the local population is facing great obstacles in protecting its culture and languages, but the country’s last rainforest is threatened, as trees are being cut to make room for agriculture and for firewood.
The article below is courtesy of Mongabay
Bordering Myanmar and the Indian states of Tripura and Mizoram, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is characterized by semi-evergreen forest that is considered part of the highly endangered Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. Concern for the well-being of these forests and their inhabitants spurred Shahriar Caesar Rahman and associates to this year launch the Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA), a Bangladesh-based non-profit CCA is taking an unconventional approach to conservation.
Characterized by semi-evergreen forest that is considered part of the highly endangered Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, CHT is a refuge for at least 26 globally threatened species, making it a critical conservation priority. But conservation efforts in the region have historically been challenged by the very remoteness and political instability that have helped protect it from deforestation seen in other parts of Bangladesh. That protection is now disappearing with the influx of settlers from other regions that are increasingly clearing forests for agriculture, logging trees for timber and firewood, and hunting wildlife. In other words, time is running out for Bangladesh’s last rainforest and its traditional tribes.
Concern for the well-being of these forests and their inhabitants spurred Shahriar Caesar Rahman and associates to last year launch the Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA), a Bangladesh-based non-profit. CCA takes an unconventional approach to conservation, building the capacity of local people to serve as “parabiologists” to help with scientific research and environmental monitoring; setting up elementary schools in exchange for moratoriums on hunting of 15 endangered species; and establishing alternative livelihood programs where local communities earn income from their traditional crafts. The efforts seem to be having an impact: parabiologists are contributing to scientific papers and acting as virtual park guards for an area that lacks legal protection; poaching is declining and literary increasing in villages that are members of the “Schools for Conservation Program”, and tribal handicrafts are being sold in a boutique in Dhaka.
Slash-and-burn agriculture practices, logging, subsistence hunting, and poaching are the major threats to the biodiversity of this forest. The traditional agriculture system practiced by the ethnic people is not sustainable anymore because there are more people in this area now and less land available. As the quality of the soil decreased over time the crop production has decreased and as a result the traditional methods of agriculture don’t even produce enough food for a year. Having left without many options, the ethnic people are forced to move to some of the last remaining patches of old growth forest to cultivate rice. Combined with this factor, the unsustainable harvest of old growth trees, bamboo and rattan by organized groups causing huge damage to the remaining forest of the area.
Having left without many options, ethnic communities are now moving in within protected areas, such as, Sangu Reserve Forest in the southeast of CHT. This is not sustainable for the ethnic communities in the long run because of destruction of the remaining old growth forest, the rivers and streams are drying up fast and as a result there has been a huge water crisis. The ethnic communities living within the Sangu Reserve Forest, and adjacent areas, have very limited access to education, health care and alternative livelihood options.
Photo courtesy of Mongabay