This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) – a network of non-resident Bangladeshis and international friends dedicated to the protection of environment. Since its founding in July 1998, BEN has been working consistently for the protection of Bangladesh and global environment. Over these years, there were many successes and also many challenges. The twentieth anniversary gives an opportunity to take stock of the past experience, find the reasons behind the successes and challenges, and draw necessary lessons for the future.
From the very beginning, BEN was aware that, in order to protect Bangladesh environment, it would be necessary to work with pro-environment forces within the country. For that reason, right after its founding, BEN took the initiative to unite the pro-environment forces inside Bangladesh. Towards that goal, BEN put forward the proposal of holding a comprehensive conference on Bangladesh environment, with participation of all pro-environment forces of the country. It is this effort that culminated in the first International Conference on Bangladesh Environment (ICBEN) held in January 2000. Following the resolution adopted at this conference, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) was set up in July 2000, as the united platform of pro-environment forces of Bangladesh. From then on, BEN and BAPA have been working closely together to protect Bangladesh environment.
A number of successes were achieved as a result of the work of BAPA, BEN, and other pro-environment forces of Bangladesh Among these are: (i) removal of the black smoke-spewing two-stroke engine vehicles from the major cities of the country; (ii) introduction of unleaded gasoline; (iii) re-imposition of the ban on the use of plastic bags; (iv) enactment of wetlands protection act; (v) adoption of new building and construction rules; (vi) formation of the “Task Force” and “National Commission” on Rivers; (v) initiative to demarcate the boundaries of rivers with the goal of protecting them from encroachment; (vi) setting up of Environment Courts, giving affected people the right to file law suits in them against polluters, etc.
An important success of BAPA and BEN has been in the area of information gathering, analysis and formulation of policy suggestions. For this purpose, BAPA and BEN, in association with other pro-environment forces of the country, have been holding conferences almost every year, focusing on one, several, or all major environmental problems of the country. Convinced that both experts and activists are needed for success in solving environmental problems, BEN and BAPA came up with the innovative “dual format” of their conferences, with two types of sessions, namely Expert Sessions, for presentation of research papers by experts, and General Session, for presentations by leaders and activists of environment movement, policymakers, and representatives of different sections of the society. This combination of experts and activists has made BAPA-BEN conferences more meaningful. Further, BAPA and BEN have regularly published conference volumes, containing the papers presented in the conferences, resolutions adopted based on the presentations and discussions on them, and other conference-related materials. These volumes are now serving as the most important source for information, analysis, and policy suggestions regarding Bangladesh’s environment problems.
As a result of the work by BEN, BAPA, and other pro-environmental forces, awareness about environmental issues is gradually increasing. Newspapers, TV stations, and other media outlets – including Social Media – are giving more attention to environmental issues, including the issue of rivers. Government policy making circles, judiciary, political parties are also recognizing the importance of environmental issues.
Starting from Dhaka city, BAPA has expanded its work all across the country, from Sylhet to Khulna and from Dinajpur to Cox’s Bazar. Similarly, BEN has expanded among NRBs. Apart from different states of the USA, BEN chapters and groups can now be found in Australia, Canada, Germany, and Japan.
Altogether, through the joint effort of RBs and NRBs and nation-wide environment movement has emerged in the country, and it is working as a robust countervailing force to pollution. Very few other countries with similar income level as Bangladesh can claim to have such a such movement. Bangladesh can take pride in this regard in the international arena.
However, as already mentioned, alongside the successes, many challenges have emerged too. For example, pro-environment policies are yet to be adopted on many environmental issues. Second, even in cases where good policies have been adopted, these are not properly implemented. In fact in some cases these policies are implemented in a way that aggravates the problems instead of solving them. Third, despite the greater awareness about the environment, it is still proving difficult to mobilize large number of people to protests against vested interests working behind pollution. Fourth, it proves difficult to sustain the interest of non-residents unless tangible and substantial progress is made inside Bangladesh in protecting environment. Fifth, it is also proving difficult to draw the next generation of non-residents to the Bangladesh environment movement. Yet without their participation, it is difficult to sustain BEN in future. Thus, in celebrating the BEN anniversary, attention needs to be given to both successes and the challenges.
With the above in mind, BEN is organizing a whole-day event to be held on June 30, Saturday, at PS 69 at Jackson Heights, NYC. At this event, experts will present their work; leaders and activists will review the experience, and lessons will be drawn for the future. Interesting cultural program; children’s arts and essay competitions; and video, slide, and poster presentations will also be part of the program. Please find attached an invitation card with an outline of the program.
We cordially invite you to join this event and make it successful.
Nazrul Islam, Phd
BEN Global Coordinator