The shopping malls sparkle with multi-coloured fairy lights throughout the night, beckoning us to indulge. Industries on the banks of Dhaka's prominent rivers boast of jobs and reek of foreign currency. Towering high-rises and old buildings given to 'develop' into apartment blocks reign over Dhaka's skyline. Thousands of crores of taka are invested in roads and highways connecting the country, and millions more are poured into energy generation. On the onset, we look every bit the part of the middle income country that we are on track to become.
But does the glitz and glamour tell the whole story?
From Tetulia to Teknaf, development projects are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake when it comes to the natural environment. From brick kilns severely polluting the air and compromising agricultural productivity to large scale industrial projects such as coal power plants and nuclear power plants posing a threat to the entire ecology—the entirety of Bangladesh is now a sorry example of an aggressive development model that is anything but sustainable. Age-old sal forests are being razed down to make way for high-end resorts and eco-parks, thousands of tonnes of solid waste are being dumped into landfills turning them into practical dead zones and coal power is promising 24-hr electricity at the cost of the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. Pristine habitats are being altered everywhere and the decision-makers are working through loopholes okaying projects despite their obvious impacts.
As another Environment Day comes and goes, we take a deeper look at the hidden cost of development. Policymakers are apt to point out that industrialisation brings much-needed jobs to the poor; some even say that environmental concerns are a luxury for a “developing” country like ours. But in this issue, we document, at length, that it is the poor communities that have consistently paid the price of pursuing an uncompromising development model—from the forest communities of Madhupur to the fishermen of the Sundarbans, from the villagers of Barapukuria to the garment workers of Gazipur. As we, the middle and upper classes, enjoy the benefits brought about by a highly unequal development model, we have systematically jeopardised the livelihoods of those dependent upon nature and the habitats of thousands of species of plants and animals with whom we share our planet.
To our policymakers, many of whom question the patriotism of those who dare question the rhetoric of development, we ask: can a development model that only prioritises electricity, infrastructure and jobs, and not fresh air, greenery and clean water, truly represent the interests of the people? Isn't it time we reevaluate our one-track approach to development and focus, instead, on development that is pro-people, pro-ecology and sustainable—which paces development activities keeping in mind the capacity and the natural resources of the earth? The cost of our uncritical consumption has already proved dear to the rivers and forests; unapologetic economic growth that is bereft of foresight—not just in Bangladesh, but around the globe—runs the risk of compromising our entire ecosystem. For a country like Bangladesh, which is predicted to be at the receiving end of the worst of climate disasters, the concerns are more pressing than ever.
But there are alternatives, if only we are willing to listen—if only we are ready to prioritise the future over the present, conservation over consumption and sustainability over growth.
— Sushmita S Preetha
Editor, Star Weekend