Activists warn food insecurity in southeastern Bangladesh may worsen over the next decade as a result of unfettered deforestation. Abdul Mannan of local NGO Society for Health Extension & Development works with communities in Cox’s Bazar District where, by the group’s estimate, some 400,000 depend on the forest to survive.
“From this 10,000 hectare forest, people manage to extract as much as US$20 million income a year. But the extraction rate is far too high, and the population pressure is too great now,” said Mannan.
“It is not enough income, and it is disappearing fast. I have asked local woodcutters [loggers] how much they would have to walk to work in the past, and it was about 1-2km. Now it is 9-10km. So looking 10 years down the line, they will have to walk 20km, 30km to find wood. If things continue to go this way, then these people’s livelihoods will disappear.”
The $20 million figure sounds lucrative, but is still not enough to support the numbers depending on that cash, said Fariduddin Ahmed, the executive director of Arannayk Foundation, a conservation group based in the capital, Dhaka.
In 2010, the country had an estimated 1,442,000 hectares of forest, 52,000 hectares less than two decades earlier. While official data for forests in the country’s southeast are unavailable, NGOs and residents say forest loss here has been more dramatic.
Both Ahmed and local Rohingya estimate loggers earn less than $2 a day, which they use to feed often sizeable families. While population control has been successful in much of Bangladesh, the southeast remains an exception, said Ahmed.
“In the southeast part of Bangladesh you will see an interesting situation – here the local and tribal people have many children… And these people, to feed their families, most of them have no option but to go to the forest, cut the wood, and sell it,” said Ahmed.
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