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Sunderbans mangrove-forest livelihoods under threat from corruption and resource exploitation

Tom Levitt

11th October, 2010

A new Ecologist-produced film, to be screened at the forthcoming Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan, highlights how the rights of indigenous peoples and their sustainable use of natural resources are being ignored by the Bangladesh Government

The part of the Sunderbans located in Bangladesh covers an area of six million hectares, consisting of about 200 islands, and is separated by about 400 interconnected tidal rivers, creeks and canals. Various local communities that depend on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods live in villages at the edges of the forest, using it for wood, honey and food.

The Ecologist Film Unit - working in association with the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) - has produced a short film highlighting how the use of the forest by the local indigenous communities is being threatened by a combination of mismangement, corruption and over-exploitation.

Speaking in the film, Professor Dr Dilip Kumar Datta, head of environmental science at Khulna University said the national Government was more concerned with revenue than the views of indigenous peoples.

'The manner in which the set of laws governing our forest resources have been drafted are decidedly top-down. For instance, the basis of the laws on the Sundarbans was that it was abundant in resources and they must be utilised - these resources will earn revenue for the government. This was the primary objective,' said Professor Datta.

Bangladesh was one of the first countries to ratify the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which specifies that the traditional knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples and local communities should be disseminated and promoted and that the profits from exploitation of natural and forest resources should be shared with forest peoples.

Ahead of the major international conference on progress of the Convention, a coalition of groups, including the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and Centre for Environment and Development, is lobbying other stakeholders and leaders for the rights of indigenous peoples to be urgently implemented.

As well as the film, they have also published a report highlighting the 'sustainable and wise use' of natural resources by indigenous and local communities in five countries; Bangladesh, Guyana, Cameroon, Thailand and Suriname.

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