• Economy over ecology

    The civil society of every nation, both Northern and Southern, will have to empower itself and make its government accountable and responsible

  • Of forests and wealth

    The Supreme Court has sug gested that the forested states, which lose revenue because of the ban on felling of trees should be compensated for keeping their forests intact. Protection of the

  • 2005: after non-governance

    Last fortnight, I wrote about my visit to a governance graveyard called the Union ministry of environment and forests. I also promised to pen a few more thoughts on the subject. Given that the

  • Declare Feb 14 as Sundarbans Day

    Environmentalists at a discussion yesterday urged the government to declare February 14 as Sundarbans Day. They said the Sundarbans with its rich bio-diversity is protecting the southwestern region of the country from natural calamities, but the forest resources are being plundered, threatening ecological disaster. The largest mangrove forest in the world must be preserved in its natural form as it is essential not only for our survival but also for the existence of the mankind, they added.

  • SAARC nations to fight illegal wildlife trade

    Eight SAARC countries have agreed to work jointly to tackle the region's illegal wildlife trade that has assumed alarming proportions. The countries have come under the banner of the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), an inter-governmental organisation, to tackle the illegal trade. The South Asian region is a storehouse of biological diversity and rich terrestrial, freshwater and marine resources. As a result, illegal trade and over-exploitation of wild animals and plants pose a major challenge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the region. In a first regional workshop held in Kathmandu, the group agreed to a series of joint action as part of a South Asia Wildlife Trade Initiative (SAWTI). This includes the setting up of a South Asia Experts Group on Wildlife Trade and development of a South Asia Regional Strategic Plan on Wildlife Trade (2008-2013). The SACEP was established in 1982 for promoting regional co-operation in South Asia in the field of environment. The group includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The workshop was organised by the Nepal Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, SACEP, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Nepal and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade-monitoring network. Senior wildlife officials from these countries have called upon the international community to support action in South Asia by providing financial and technical assistance in the implementation of the regional plan, an official statement of TRAFFIC said here. The Kathmandu workshop has agreed to focus on a number of key areas of work. These include co-operation and co-ordination, effective legislation policies and law enforcement, sharing knowledge and effective dissemination of information, sustainability of legal trade and livelihoods security, intelligence networks and early warning systems and capacity building. IANS

  • Environment protection laws reduced to a travesty of their mandates

    Since 1980, different pieces of legislation have been enacted for environmental conservation. These include the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980, the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), 1986 and the Biological Diversity Act (BDA), 2002. These have the potential to strengthen the conservation agenda. But they are at best being used to

  • Dependence on forests to be reduced

    Three indigenous persons getting instructions to work as tourist guides at Lawachhara reserve forest in Moulvibazar district on Thursday as Forest Department's Nishorga programme arranged an 'eco-tour guide' training for 74 young men and women. The programme aims at protecting biodiversity by reducing local people's dependence on forests for living. Photo: STAR A sustainable eco-tourism programme has been developed in the protected forests areas to reduce local people's dependence on forests by creating alternative job opportunities for them. Forest Department's Protected Area Management Programme called Nishorgo developed the programme aiming at conservation of biodiversity through collaborative management with local stakeholders. Under the programme, economic incentives are being provided to locals living near Lawarchara National Park, Satchari National Park, Rema Kalenga Wildlife Sanctuary, Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary and Teknaf Game Reserve. As a part of the programme, Nishorgo has trained 74 young men and women to operate as Eco Tour Guides, developed trails for forest hiking and others. It has started professional Eco-tour Guide certification process at its five pilot sites to ensure quality eco-tour guiding facilities for nature tourists. The two-day certification course included written test and field examination. To evaluate and certify the trained eco tour guides, a board was formed consisting of Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, CEO, Guide Tours and Mamun, CEO Green Tours, representing Tour Operator's Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), Modinul Ahsan and Kazi Nurul Karim, Assistant Conservator of Forests of Forest Department and Kazi M A Hashem of Nishorgo Support Project. The trained youths are now self-employed as Eco-tour guides who provide eco-tour guiding service at five pilot sites. The nature tourists are encouraged to hire a eco-tour guide. Guides are available at the entry areas of the parks. Tourists can also directly call a Eco-tour guide whose contact numbers are listed at Nishorgo Programme's website ( Nishorgo Programme receives financial assistance from the USAID through Nishorgo Support Project (NSP).

  • Khirthar's plant biodiversity under threat, says study

    The recently completed first ever research on the plant biodiversity of the Khirthar Range has found around 197 species, many with medicinal properties, which are under serious threat of extinction due to human activities, including construction, extensive chopping of trees and large shrubs for use as fuel wood, as well as ecological stress. The three-year study, funded by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), suggests immediate large-scale conservation and development of the plant biodiversity of the Khirthar Range, which, it says, has great potential for commercial exploitation for medicinal purposes that would not only reduce pressure on the wild stocks, it would also help alleviate poverty. Other recommendations include the provision of alternate sources of income and fuel to the locals and the initiation of measures to ensure minimum disturbance to the natural habitat while developing Gorakh Hill as a resort. "It's the first ever research on plant biodiversity of the entire Khirthar Range. Earlier, a baseline study was conducted in 2000, but that was only restricted to Khirthar National Park,' said Professor Dr Anjum Perveen of the University of Karachi's botany department, who conducted the research. She said that more research was needed to explore the entire plant biodiversity of the Khirthar Range that extends southwards for about 190 miles from the Mula River in east-central Balochistan to Cape Muari (Monze) west of Karachi on the Arabian Sea. "My research is a small step that needs to be strengthened by further studies. I would have loved to go to the top of the highest peak, Kutte-ji-Qabar (at about 6,878 feet above sea level) that remains covered with snow for many months, but couldn't do so without any logistical support and had to be content with the area within our reach,' she said. It was because of these limitations that eight sites were selected for research. These included Khirthar National Park, Rani Kot, Kutte-ji-Qabar, Batro Jabal, Pir Ghazi Shah and Gorakh Hill (the second highest peak of the Khirthar Range), Dureji and Tiko Baran. "A great source of limestone, gravel, salt, sand and marble, the entire Khirthar Range, that includes protected areas of Khirthar National Park, Mahal Kohistan Wildlife Sanctuary and the Sumbak Game Reserve, is covered with calcareous rocks and has a desert climate. The average temperature ranges between 44 to 48 degrees centigrade in summer and 30 to 35 degrees centigrade in winter at daytime. At night, it drops to as low as 10 to 15 degrees centigrade. The altitude varies from about 1,000 metres in the south to 2,400 metres in the north,' she responded when asked about the geographical and climatic conditions of the area. Incredible diversity The team recorded 197 plant species, distributed in 60 families, the most dominant being Poaceae, followed by Compositae, Papilionaceae and Solanaceae. Species like Neurada procumbens, Corallocarpus epigaeus, Commelina albescens, Moringa concanensis, Plantago ciliata, Plantago stocksii, Olea ferruginea, Salvadora persica, Asparagus sp., Aristolochia bracteolata, Caralluma edulis, C. tuberculata, Cometes surratense and Viola stocksii were rare species, most of which were found on Gorakh Hill. The frequently found species were Fagonia indica, Rhazya stricta, Acacia nilotica and Grewia tenax and Dodanea viscose. The two endemic species were Justicia vahlii and Ruellia sindica while Bergia suffruticosa, Seetzenia lanata and Sophora alopecuroides were the three new findings. Acacia nilotica was being extensively used as a fuel wood while Nannorophs ritchieana for making baskets and mats. Many of these plants surviving in drought conditions, she said, had medicinal properties. Some could be grown in the city and prove to be a wonderful replacement for many decorative plants that required a lot of water. For instance, Dodonaea viscosa can be used to make hedges. Among the large number of plants having medicinal properties included Plantago ciliata (ispagol), Olea ferruginea (kaho), Peganum harmala (harmal), Rhazya stricta (sewear), Tecomella undulate (rohida), Withania coagulans (paneer booti), Asparagus gharoensis (musli), Ephedra ciliata (Ephedra) and Tribulus longipetalous (gokhru). "We visited the sites from time to time during the study period and made efforts to include the representative, topographic and physiographic conditions. Though collecting specimens from inaccessible heights was an arduous task itself, the greater danger was posed by criminal elements who rule these areas and it was difficult to move independently,' she said. When asked about the most difficult and diverse spot in terms of plant biodiversity, Dr Perveen said that Gorakh Hill was the most rich. "The 5,688ft high Gorakh Hill Station is surrounded by high mountains. The most unique feature of this area is that the mercury column remains below 20 degrees centigrade even in June and July. These climatic conditions make it distinctive in vegetation, too,' she said, quickly adding that the plants had been severely damaged by construction works. "The present vegetation is already under stress due to prolonged droughts, extensive grazing, chopping and poor soil conditions. Making Gorakh Hill a resort is an excellent idea, but development shouldn't come at the cost of ecological destruction. In fact, this indigenous plant wealth can be turned into an income-generating source if the government educates locals about its significance and trains them in setting up plant nurseries,' she suggested.

  • Catalogue of life

    Scientists will comprehend bio-diversity with clarity. Together technology and networking have enabled an encyclopedia of life that was launched last week to catalogue every one of the 1.8 million known species on earth. Beginning with 30,000 species uploaded last Tuesday, the site will evolve with the cooperation of scientists and people into a database to become a useful resource. The mega initiative will help to comprehend and preserve the biodiversity of life on earth. The content drawn from several sources is authenticated by scientists using software tools that will mine scientific literature for regular updates. From general information for the interested layman, the site goes into in-depth details with the help of photos, video, scientific references, maps and text of 25 species ranging from the tomato to the peregrine falcon. Natural history libraries the world over are scanning their extensive literature to provide additional information on several listed species. As an interactive site, it invites comments and suggestions. Having already generated tremendous interest, the website logged 11.5 million hits the day it was launched and eventually their computers crashed. The idea was first formulated by reputed thinker of this century, E O Wilson in an essay in 2003. A global effort that will be a global resource, the $12.5 million project is funded by the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations. Efforts have hitherto been restricted to species on the brink of extinction, or in species/subject specific works. As the developers acknowledge, this is a task that relies heavily on technology and would not have been possible even five years ago. But as is evident with the world shrinking daily into a compact networked global village, access to information is easier than before. Such an immense work has not been attempted and will not be easy either. But with the available software tools today, the job is not impossible. Standing as the planet does on the brink of a tipping point, thanks to global warming, a critical concern is that several species may bid adieu forever unless something is done. The encyclopedia by bringing together various facts on diverse species will help scientists understand the inter-dependence of life in its many forms and the role of biodiversity with greater clarity. Significantly the scientific initiative signals a trend towards globalisation of knowledge which is accessible to anyone anywhere at the click of the keyboard. Small steps towards larger goals remind us more than anything else that we belong to one planet. Boundaries, nationalities, races, classes and languages become insignificant trivia on such a map.

  • Commentary: Work together, save the planet

    Late last month the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in Longyearbyen, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen.

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