A Mangrove in Bangladesh Offers Villagers Natural Disaster Protection

‘If there had been this mangrove during the cyclone of 1970, we would not have lost relatives, we would not have lost resources.’

The crooked canal flows through the Kukri Mukri mangrove
The crooked canal flows through the Kukri Mukri mangrove.

Rafiqul Islam Montu

As far as the eye can see, there is endless greenery spanning the horizon. It is a dense cluster of trees, with a river on three sides and the sea on the fourth side. Standing at the mouth of the sea, it serves as a massive natural wall protecting the island from natural disasters, similar to how a parent shields a child from physical danger. This is the Kukri Mukri mangrove. And for the people of Char Kukri Mukri, Bangladesh, the mangrove is nothing short of a savior.

Char Kukri Mukri is an island union in the Charfason subdistrict in the southernmost coastal Bhola district of Bangladesh. Human settlement on the island dates 150 years, prior to the independence of Bangladesh.

In 1970, mangroves didn't exist in the area. When a tropical cyclone (Bhola cyclone) hit the region that fall, it caused extensive damage, washing away the entire island and claiming an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 lives nationwide. The United Nations Meteorological Organization says it is the deadliest recorded cylcone in the world's history.

After the cyclone, those living in the affected areas recognized the role mangroves can play to protect them from natural disasters. Locals worked with government initiatives to create the Kukri Mukri mangrove. Now, survivors of the tragic cyclone reminisce over what could have been: "If there had been this mangrove during the cyclone of 1970, we would not have lost relatives, we would not have lost resources," says one local.

More than 50 years later, the island has a new identity built on the devastating lessons learned from the cyclone: It is now a refuge for those affected by river erosion and natural calamities caused by the climate crisis; people now move to the island to build homes.

The mangrove protects villages

Abdul Quader Maal of Char Mainka village lost everything in the 1970 cyclone. But Kukri Mukri Mangrove now gives him protection
Abdul Quader Maal of Char Mainka village lost everything in the 1970 cyclone. But Kukri Mukri Mangrove now gives him protection. Rafiqul Islam Montu

Abdul Quader Maal, a resident of the Char Mainka village, is a survivor of the 1970 cyclone. While Maal survived, he lost his wife, his children, and all his relatives. Everything was washed away by the pressure of the water coming from the South.

"Kukri Mukri Mangrove now protects us," Maal, now 90, tells Treehugger. "Without these mangrove plants, we would have had to float in the water many times."

Others from Maal's village echo the same sentiment. Mofidul Islam says, "If we had this mangrove before, we would not have lost anything."

What caused the cyclone to cause so much damage? The villagers say there was no embankment and the lack of trees left people's homes vulnerable and unprotected. As such, extremely high tides washed everything away. But now, thanks to the mangrove, the villagers have a sense of security.

"Mangrove forests were planted in many places after the cyclone of 1970," says Abdul Rashid Rari, another resident of Char Mainka. "In 50 years, those plants have grown a lot. These mangroves are now our shield. We do not feel the storm due to the forest."

For Maal, there's a twinge of nostalgic regret. "If there was a mangrove then, my wife and children would have survived," he says.

Mangrove management is a joint effort

Local youths build tree nests for the birds of the Kukri mangrove
Local youths build tree nests for the birds of the Kukri mangrove. Rafiqul Islam Montu

The Kukri Mukri mangrove protects more than the Char Mainka village: It is saving the people of the entire Bhola district from natural calamities.

Saiful Islam, a range officer at the Char Kukri Mukri Range Office in Bangladesh's Forest Department, says that after the catastrophic cyclone, the government's forest department took the initiative to build this mangrove. In the '80s, there was a radical change in the management of mangroves with scaled-up afforestation efforts. Outside the natural forest area, the forest department planted trees on both sides of the embankment built around Kukri Mukri island. 

Now, decades later, the whole island is full of greenery with the slow-growing mangrove measuring around 5,000 hectares. Conservation efforts are joint between the forest department and the local islanders. Growing awareness among the people—Kukri Mukri has a population of 14,000—has led to massive undertakings amongst locals to actively protect the mangroves.

"The importance of forests has been explained to the public," says Abul Hashem Mahajan, chairman of Kukri Mukri Union Council. "Any activity that causes damage to the forest is prohibited here. There are restrictions on fishing in forest canals. We are taking necessary measures to save the birds and give the guest birds a chance to roam freely. Even if tourists come here so as not to damage the forest; We are monitoring that. Kukri Mukri Mangrove is protected through all these."

In 2009, the United Nations got involved. Recently, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) worked with the government of Bangladesh to promote sustainable afforestation in and around the Kukri Mukri mangrove. The program aimed to “reduce climate vulnerability of local communities through participatory planning, community-based management, integration of climate resilient livelihoods and diversification of species in afforestation and reforestation.”

"We have applied sustainable mangrove building techniques in forest management,” says Kabir Hossain, UNDP's ICBAAR project communications officer. “We have involved people in mangrove conservation. As a result, the locals are saving the mangroves for their own needs."

An example of local involvement is the Kukri Mukri Green Conservation Initiative (KMGCI). Formed by a group of local youths, this initiative leads various programs to conserve mangroves. Measures include raising awareness among locals, volunteering in campaigns, and partaking in eco-tourism efforts.

"If this mangrove survives, we will survive. We need to protect this mangrove in our life needs," says Zakir Hossain Majumder, coordinator of KMGCI. "So many people died in the 1970 cyclone because there were no mangroves. We never want to see that scene again. That is why we are working on mangrove conservation at the initiative of the youth. In the meantime, we are seeing positive results from this initiative."

Apart from Kukri Mukri, the four-year UNDP project was implemented on the entire coast of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is vulnerable to climate disasters

Aerial view of a village on the island of Bhola devastated by the tropical cyclone and tidal wave which hit the area on November 13, 1970.
Aerial view of a village on the island of Bhola devastated by the tropical cyclone and tidal wave which hit the area on November 13, 1970. Mondadori/Getty Images

Every year, multiple natural disasters strike the coast of Bangladesh that displace those who survive the calamities. The impact of climate change only exacerbates the issues. The simple truth is that Bangladesh does not significantly contribute to the climate crisis, but its people are disproportionately at risk. According to the UNDP:

“Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world. The country is frequently subjected to cyclones, floods, and storm surges due to the adverse impact of climate change. Around 35 million people who are living in 19 coastal districts of the country are in the highest level of climate risks. Experts suspected that due to global warming, 10-15% Bangladesh’s land could be inundated by 2050, resulting in over 25 million climate refugees from the coastal districts.”

Researchers from Ohio State University found severe storms and unusually high tides are hitting Bangladesh every decade. By 2100, it is likely to be hit three to 15 times a year on a regular basis. 

Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed, the former chief conservator of forests in Bangladesh, has suggested extensive forestry to reduce the risk of natural disasters off the coast of Bangladesh. He says green mangrove walls should be built across the coast to alleviate natural disasters, as mangroves can offer security.

The success of the Kukri Mukri mangrove spotlights the potential in Ahmed’s idea. After the 1970 cyclone generated fear, the mangrove now offers locals some sense of security against natural disasters.

View Article Sources
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