About 20,000 fishermen and woodcutters of the Sundarbans have been living a measurable life for the last three months due to the extension of its wildlife sanctuary at Sharonkhola range ‘without making any rehabilitation plan’ for those who depend on the forest for their livelihood.
As the Forest and Environment Ministry designated 73 percent of Sharonkhola range of the Sundarbans as wildlife sanctuary, many fishermen have turned unemployed as they cannot enter the forest for fishing.
Al Amin, a fisherman from Charpara village of the upazila, said, “I had been earning my living from fishing in the Sundarbans since my 15 years of age. I had to take loan from mohajon (money lenders) as I couldn’t go for fishing in the forest for the last three months. Now the money lenders are forcing me to return their money…I don’t know how I’ll repay it.”
Another fisherman, Mamun, said now fishermen have access to 27 percent of the Sharonkhola range where only 200 to 300 fishermen can go for fishing. As a result, the rest of the fishermen have lost their work, and are living in misery.
“After the sanctuary was declared, I went to Chattogram to earn living but had to return after working as a day-labourer for a week,” he said alleging that as schoolteachers there refused to enroll his children as they were not permanent residents there.
Jalal Molla, a fish trader of Sharonkhali market, said they need to provide loans to fishermen to send them for fishing in the forest, but now the business got stopped.
Bachchu Munshi, a ward member of Southkhali Union Parishad, told UNB that if the situation does not change many fishermen of the region will be forced to leave their village to find alternative works.
Contacted, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Sundarbans East Forest Zone Md Mahmudul Hasan said a Tk-406 crore project is coming soon to protect the Sundarbans and for those who have turned unemployed due to the extension of the sanctuary.
Under the project, Tk 250 crore will be spent on rehabilitation of the unemployed people under a five-year livelihood development programme, the DFO added expressing his hope that the unemployed fishermen will get out of the crisis soon.
In July 2017, the government issued a new notification on expansion of the sanctuary areas in different parts of the Sundarbans. With this notification, another 178,260 hectares of land were added to the existing sanctuary, giving half of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans a sanctuary status.
Of the additional 178260 hectares of sanctuary, 91,693 hectares are under Sundarbans East division in Sarankhola; 38,339 hectares under Sundarbans South division in Khulna; and 48,216 hectares under Sundarbans West division in Satkhira, said sources at the Forest Department.
The government has banned the collection of forest resources from the sanctuary areas, aiming to help increase the biodiversity of the forest, including the wildlife and trees.