Friday, July 15, 2011

Importance of voting for the Sunderbans

Precious time is ticking away. We only have about four months, till  November 11, to mobilize for an all-out struggle to have one of Bangladesh’s proudest possessions, its Sundarban forest, the largest mangrove forest and unique in the world, elected as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The contest is in the final phase and Bangladesh cannot absolutely afford an outcome of non-inclusion   of the Sundarbans in this global seven natural wonders list for obvious reasons.

Getting selected will not only make the nation proud or have the name of the forest imprinted in the minds of millions of people round the world. The triumph would also, very significantly, be a feather in the cap of Bangladesh for other tangible reasons. 

It would create the motivation for the regular arrival of foreign eco- tourists in large numbers to  Bangladesh and they, of course, spend in this country. Thus, a huge tourist bonanaza  on a sustainable basis is likely from our winning in the race to have the Sunderbans selected as one of the seven  natural wonder sites.

Tourism creates employment. According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the tourism industry accounts for 11% of total global employment. It is said that every twelve tourists create a new job. Unfortunately, tourism is one of the most neglected sectors in Bangladesh.

The number of eco-tourists in the world has been increasing by more than ten percent a year. Initially, Bangladesh may set its target to attract one million eco-tourists a year and may well attain it if the Sundarbans is finally selected as one of the seven natural wonders. Add to that the benefits it would deliver to the Bangladesh economy.

Out of the 440 natural sites of the world, 28 were selected by polls by July 2009 of which the Sunderbans is one. But the countdown for the final selection has started. Only seven natural wonders will be finally selected from the 28 already selected.

But are we going to be content with being only semi-finalists instead of winning the trophy? This question is looking increasingly stark as the countdown has come closer. Many times in the past it was noted that Bangladesh missed invaluable opportunities presented to it on a platter.

Take, for example, the offer of a free undersea connection to the information superhighway that Bangladesh received in the nineties. It was spurned by short-sighted bureaucrats who thought that the same would compromise the country’s requirements for secrecy or its security. But only a decade later Bangladesh was found seeking such connections and paying for the costs after the late realisation about how important such an acquisition would be.

Bangladesh would be well set on the path to becoming an information technology (IT) power if the right decision was taken by its then government to steer the country in the right direction. The appropriateness of the old idiom “a stitch in time, saves nine” has still plenty of relevance in the context of Bangladesh.

Thus, one should not be misunderstood for being apprehensive about Bangladesh’s preparation though the incumbent government deserves praise for successfully organizing World Cup cricket in Bangladesh. It cannot be, thus, dismissed as not having the capacity or the outlook to reach targets on such vital matters.

Another example of its relatively better alertness was its last minute actions that saved the country from the fallout for not moving in time to make its claim to the adjacent Bay of Bengal. This had been the responsibility of successive governments, but was neglected.

Nonetheless, anxiety remains as a huge effort is required and we need to go all out from now to ensure our berth among the seven. Earlier, in January this year, the relevant minister stated that 150 million votes would be needed to ensure a win for the Sunderbans.

That is, almost all the votes of the total population of Bangladesh will be required to launch the Sunderbans effectively into the winning position. As far as it is known, the number of votes so far has not crossed 10 million. So, evidently we are still far away from the target.

But how many Bangladeshis, so far, know about the contest and their patriotic duty to vote for it? A couple of roadshows, at least, across the country should have been held by now to make the people aware. But not even one has been staged.

Publicity in the mass media or otherwise to this end is still not loud or extensive enough.  A telephone facility exists for the voting but one has to pay a charge for using it to vote although that cost would be considered nominal by many.

But only people’s spontaneous enthusiasm must not be relied on. The government should make an offer of toll-free calls through numerous points in the country and urge the people to avail these facilities.  The telephone companies and the NBR must get their act together on these aspects at the soonest.

But the biggest push can be no other than India and Bangladesh coming together on this. Sixty per cent of the Sunderbans falls within Bangladesh and the remaining 40 per cent in India. Thus, it should be in India’s interest as well to make sure that the Sunderbans wins in the contest. It can be a shining example of a win-win situation for both countries.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to come to Dhaka  in September. A number of treaties are likely to be signed during his visit. The occasion would be wonderfully suited to sign another accord whereby both countries would undertake to cooperate to motivate their people respectively to vote in great numbers for the Sunderbans.

India and Bangladesh are among the seven most populous countries in the world. So, there is no reason why the Sundarbans will fail to win in the selection process if the population of both countries are inspired through systematic publicity and motivational programmes to cast  their vote massively.

Also our expatriate community is fairly large in number. They should be also persuaded to take an interest in the matter by voting as well as motivating people in their host countries to vote for the Sunderbans.