Govt could not care less

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Over 70km is the spread of the oil spill in the Sundarbans. Two hundred is the number of locals employed to manually collect oil from water. Two is the number of trawlers deployed to spray clean the oil from plants. And Tk 2 lakh allocated for the clean-up operation. None of the money has actually reached the authorities. One need not talk more to say how seriously the government is taking this horrendous disaster in the Sundarbans, the one and only such mangrove forest in the world. And stranger still is that none of the NGOs which are supposedly working on environment have engaged themselves in this clean-up operation. We know about at least one NGO that has got about Tk 100 crore for its work in the Sundarbans. In the end, as nature photographer Sirajul Hossain has written on the Facebook, it was the poor villagers and the underpaid foresters who had to undertake the clean-up of this mess caused by the rich. From the beginning, the government’s reaction to the disaster has been peculiar. The shipping minister, Shahjahan Khan, was quick to say, quoting some unnamed experts, that the spill would not have any adverse effect on the forest’s biodiversity. Any damn fool would disagree with such experts’ view. As the spill spread and spread, all that the government did was to ask the forest department to do what it could think best — engaging 200 men to do the job. Why was it not 200,000? Or 20,000 or even 2,000? Why, every litre of oil soaked out of the river would have been every tree saved, every crab saved, every deer saved, every finfoot saved. (We are yet to see the dead animals because the effect would be long-term.) There are some big oil companies like Chevron operating in Bangladesh. These companies are supposed to have the best equipment and knowledge to fight spill because in deep sea drilling that is the worst fear leading to millions of dollars’ worth of law suits. The government could have approached them immediately for help. Five days after the disaster, the UN has intended to help the government, not the other way round in a very Putinian way. But by this time, the oil has got stuck to the roots of the trees, choking them slowly. We all know the bureaucratic UN system and the time they take to respond (remember Rwanda?). By the time if anything starts happening at all, the trees would be dead. With them the biodiversity. This is only the first of many more similar disasters expected to happen to the Sundarbans once the zone becomes active with power plants and industries. And if our response remains the same, we can as well say goodbye to the unique ecosystem of the world.

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