Women engrossing in building greenbelt to offset furies of sea

It has been a harrowing and unpleasant time for many coastal settlers who have lived through the catastrophes and backlashes of frequent cyclones, tidal surges and winds, reports BSS.

Bangladesh’s coast belt, facing severe tidal surges, cyclones and winds, has necessitated to map out the programme of introducing coastal plantings to protect erosion, environmental degradation and save the life and property of people.

Such environment-friendly endeavor has driven a fifty-year old beach dwelling woman to subscribe the notion that thick belts of mangroves and seashore forests can reduce the impact of the different severe natural calamities on the coastal settlers.

Josnara Begum of Aladia village of Hatiya island, nurturing a 30-year long experience of living in coastal areas, is sorely engrossed in planting and nursing mangrove saplings in the coastal area of the island contributing to building a greenbelt against the furies of sea.

The training imparted to her by the Forest Department has helped her broach the idea of the benefits of reforesting the shoreline with the help of local communities and inspire other women to join the pro-environment preservation effort in the coastal areas.

“After taking training from the Forest Department, about 70 women have been working in a coastal afforestation programme in plating mangrove saplings on about 40 hectares of costal land on daily basis,” a determined Josnara Begum said.

The inspirational Josnara said women are directly involved in creating a greenbelt in their islands as they prepared mangrove seedlings, plant saplings and nursing those to grow up.

Apart from the environmental development issue, their direct involvement in the green belt building is giving them a means to earn extra income to supplement family earnings, thereby empowering them economically.

“We get Taka 300 per day for our work, which helps us improve our livelihoods. As a result, our income has increased. Now we send our children to schools as we have the capacity to bear their education expenses,” she added.

Following the footsteps of Josnara, another women Nasma Begum (40) of the same village said by engaging herself in the afforestation programme , she earned Taka 4,000 last year and bought a goat for rearing.

Recalling the olden days when she came to Aladia village 30 years back after her marriage, Josnara said cyclones and storm surges used to frequently hit them hard in the absence of greenbelt in the coast lines, but now the situation has changed. “Now we feel safer from natural disasters than any time of the past as green coverage is now affording shade to cope with the possible devastating consequences,” she noted.

The people living along the country’s low-lying coastline are highly vulnerable to natural disasters as climate change drives rising sea levels, warmer oceans and increasingly ferocious cyclones.

With a view to increasing natural protection for the vulnerable coastal communities, the Forest Department with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been working with the coastal community on the unique programme expanding a greenbelt of mangroves and promoting more-resilient, multi-species forests.

Divisional Forest Officer Towhidul Islam said women have been playing an pioneer role in creating a mangrove greenbelt in Hatiya island as they are directly involved in the afforestation programme.

“They (women) collect seeds of mangrove trees, produce saplings and plant those on the coastal land,” he said. In the past, the forest officer said, only two mangrove species, Keora and Baen were planted in the coastal areas and after about 20-25 years, these species naturally die, leaving gaps in the greenbelt. 

“Taking lessons from it we have now been planting various mangrove species, including Sunduri, Geowa, Garan, Pashur and Golpata. Once these trees grow up, seedlings will occur naturally and sustainable mangrove forests will be created,” he said. SAFEGUARDING MANGROVES

The women are not merely planting new mangrove trees in the coastlines but also playing an important role in protecting the forests from destruction and reducing environmental degradation.

“When we see someone felling trees in the forests, we bar them from doing so as forests save us from natural calamities like cyclone and storm surge,” said Ripala Begum (35).

“We motivate locals not to cut trees from mangrove forests, saying the forests give us both livelihood and shelter,” she added.

As incentive to the community to act as local custodians of the forest, the programme is offering climate-resilient livelihoods linked to management of the greenbelt.

Ripala said local women collect dry wood from the mangrove forests and sell those in local markets, an encouraging way to earn extra money, helping them improve their livelihoods.

Mangrove forests helps buffer the land against the storm surge, strong wind and sea level rise, creating a natural barrier to natural disasters, which protect coastal community and their homes and belongings.

With guidance from the Bangladesh Forest Research Institute, over 176,000 mangroves seedlings from 10 robust, the Forest Department planted saline-tolerant species in 10 different forest ranges.

About 35,000 people in 62 villages are expected to be benefited to this end directly or indirectly.

In line with adaptation priorities set out under the country’s National Adaptation Programme of Action, Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, and Seventh Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), over 200 hectares of land along the vulnerable Barguna, Patuakhali, Bhola and Noakhali coastline have already brought under mangrove forest coverage, according to forest officials.

Forests act as a shield that protect coastal people from natural disasters like cyclone and storm surge, programme manager Dr Mohammed Muzammel Hoque said, adding a total of 650 hectares land will be reforested under the programme by 2019.