Bangladesh Environment: Moving the Movement

Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) occasionally organizes events to inform, educate and seek support from non-resident Bangladeshis living abroad to preserve environment of Bangladesh. On Sunday, March 22nd, BEN organized a special event to welcome Mr. Abdul Matin, General Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) – (Bangladesh Environmental Movement) who has been visiting USA. BEN works closely with BAPA on environmental issues in Bangladesh. So close is the relationship that they are sometimes called BAPA-BEN. The event took place in Jackson Heights, New York. More or less 30 people attended the event.

The General Secretary briefly talked about BAPA and different aspects of environmental problems and prospects of Bangladesh.

  • Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) was launched in 2000 to create a nationwide movement to protect Bangladesh’s environment. Since then it has been working with reputation, so much so that some people uses the good name of BAPA to support their own local environmental activities.
  • BAPA has to fend off request for membership from corrupted government officials who want to use BAPA’s name and activity for their personal benefit. Due to resource constrain, BAPA has been expanding slowly at local levels. Some associates are working independently with BAPA following their model of community activism.
  • BAPA has about 500 members, after cutting down almost 350 inactive members over the years. It has central committee, executive committee, 18 program committees based on various environmental issues, and 14 sub-committees to help those program committees. BAPA leadership is elected via a ‘controlled democracy’ for smooth operation of the organization.
  • Many reputable personalities in Bangladesh, like lawyers, environmental experts, and teachers provide their services for BAPA as a labor of love and they are an important lifeline for BAPA. Volunteers help them to carry out many of their field level activities.
  • BAPA tries to maintain certain level of transparency by allowing anyone to see their financial statements by visiting their Dhaka Office.
  • When asked about what are the organizational challenges BAPA is facing, Mr. Matin stated that there are none! The main challenges are to convince and motivate people and government to care for environment.
  • Even after many efforts and some improvements, environment is an ever-neglected area for Bangladesh government. As an example he cited that Bangladesh has no national river policy. Therefore, rivers are facing ‘extinction’. Many rivers are dying out, getting polluted, becoming narrower, and illegally used for personal and commercial benefits. It is a constant battle to save them.
  • As an anecdote he told the audience how local officials in Sundarbans – a world heritage site, killed two deers to pleasingly feed the Prime Minister of Bangladesh when she was visiting the area! The PM was not happy and the officials were suspended! The anecdote depicts the level of awareness among the local level Bangladeshi government/political authorities about environmental issues!

Many thanks to BAPA-BEN for organizing an informal and informative event. It is very commendable that BAPA is actively working to protect Bangladesh’s environment by providing information, generating public opinion, formulating policies, and persuading public officials. Without the presence of the General Secretary, basic information about BAPA was hard to find. BAPA’s website does not provide almost any information what the GS provided at the event. For example, what are the 18 program committees, what are their activities, what are the achievements of BAPA so far, what are their future plans, how are volunteers involve in the process, how can non-resident Bangladeshis and others can help or raise concern or provide support? Can anyone see BAPA’s annual reports online? etc.

BAPA’s website provides some minimal, formal, static information. The blog contains no entry! List of activities listed from March 14, 2012, although the organization was born in 2000. Last activity was posted on May 22, 2013! Research papers/publications are not available either for gratis or sell. There is nothing on ‘Associates’ link! The General Secretary mentioned that volunteers help BAPA but website is wholeheartedly empty about them! There is no social links of any kind.

Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon

Disseminate information, keep them online, open and regular updates are very important aspect in today’s environmental movement. BAPA can easily be more connected with outside communities and organizations through its online campaign.

Even Bangladesh is nowhere close to responsible for climate change due to carbon emission comparing to developed countries of the world, Bangladesh will be one of the most affected country. Many experts rightly and reasonably have mentioned that there is very little Bangladesh can do to ‘stop’ global warming. The question is whatever little Bangladesh can do, are they doing it to the furthest extent? While Bangladesh’s industrial contribution to global warming has been small its contribution through deforestation has been large. Between 1986-7 and 1996-7 the amount of cars, trucks, and jeeps doubled in Bangladesh, etc. – Bangladesh has to address these kind of issues.

Although Bangladeshis living abroad can do advocacy, lobbying, organizing, active participation in civic forums to get attention about the effects of climate change in Bangladesh, most non-resident Bangladeshis seems like are least concerned about it now. Only a handful of Bangladeshis joined last year’s climate march in New York. BAPA-BEN can think of some innovative initiatives to motivate/engage them.

Before ending, two points to make in a positive spirit:

Flower PresentationIn the middle of his talk, the speaker was forced to stop because the organizer forgot to welcome him with flowers! Therefore, he was interrupted, flower was given, photos were taken, audience waited, and then he went back talking again. Flowers could have been given before or after the talk – not in the middle by interrupting the most important part of the event. The incident was somehow connected with Bangladesh environment movement – culturally. Bangladeshis need to re-think their cultural practices if they want to save the environment. Changing culture is hard but, at times, it is essential and possible too.

projector runningThe projector at the event was running for more than two hours just with one slide! It’s not only caused some light pollutions, but also made difficult to take pictures whoever wanted! Here is a different kind of example of how every small act counts!

Thanks again Bangladesh Environment Network and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon for the event.

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