Currently Bangladesh’s population density is 1138.2 people per square kilometre thus making it the most thickly populated country in the world. High density of population puts pressure on the natural resources of the country making sustainable management of them difficult.
The importance of sustainability of the natural resources has also been duly understood and received its recognition by incorporating a new Article in the Constitution of the country (Article 18A) to safeguard the natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife for the present and future citizens (Fifteenth Amendment) Act, 2011 (Act XIV of 2011). Sustainable natural resource management means the management of natural resources like land, water, soil, plants and animals in a manner which is used and harnessed by the present generation keeping provisions of those for the future generations. Natural resources management can be understood as the ‘right to regulate internal use patterns and transform the resources by making improvement’. These activities can be performed by single actors or jointly by groups of individuals or in collaboration with different groups.
Collaborative management or co-management also means ‘the sharing of power and responsibility between the government and local resource users’. It can also be viewed as ‘governance systems that combine state control with local, decentralised decision making and accountability and which, ideally, combines the strengths and mitigates the weaknesses of each.’ Co-management is a logical approach in solving resource management problems by partnerships.
Partnerships are often essential. Local users alone can hardly manage most natural resources in the complex scenario. At the same time, centralised management of local resources is problematic. Even centralised systems are dependent on the local level, for example, for the knowledge and skills of local users. As such, co-management is a partnership arrangement in which the line agencies of the government, local resource user groups and external negotiators share the responsibilities and authorities for the management of a resource. A number of benefits could be reaped through co-management that would include: allocation of tasks, exchange of resources, linking different types and levels of organisation, reduction of transaction costs, risk sharing, conflict resolution and power sharing.
The co-management system is in practice in Bangladesh for quite sometimes. The Government of Bangladesh introduced the system for the sustainable use of critical natural resources. In the Hail Haor, Sreemongal co-management organisations are formed named as Resource Management Organisations (RMOs) comprising of fishers and non-fisher representatives from catchment villages. Other co-management organisations (CMOs) are also formed comprising of fishers or resource users called Resource User Groups (RUGs). Besides community level bodies, there are other committees at Upazila level that comprises relevant government officials for providing policy, legal, administrative and technical support to CMOs in accomplishing resource management functions. In Tanguar Haor, there are four tiers of CMOs starting from resource users at village level to a multi-stakeholders platform at the district level named as the Tanguar Haor Management Committee (THMC) which is headed by the Deputy Commissioner (DC). THMC comprises almost all relevant government agency representatives at district level including a BGB commander, Superintendent of Police, UP Chairmen, OC and one representative from each of the partner NGOs. The THMC is the top management body to take decisions on overall co-management activities and issues of Tanguar Haor. This committee reviews and approves all management interventions, activities of CMOs, partner NGOs and other government agencies in the area. The collaborative management system has also been in practice in the forest Protected Areas (PAs) in Bangladesh. It is a departure from the earlier approach of custodian system towards a participatory management system. It has been reported that currently co-management system is functioning in 22 Protected Areas of the forests of Bangladesh having focuses on rights and responsibilities, meaningful participation, distribution of benefits among the concerned stakeholders. Thus under the co-management system there often are multiple local interests and multiple government agencies working together. However, co-management is not static but a continuous problem-solving process. It involves extensive deliberation, negotiation and joint learning of the stakeholders. The co-management should be looked at from the perspective that how different management tasks are organised and distributed rather than the structure of the system.
In Bangladesh, in most of the cases, the co-management of the natural resources is being tried or practiced under the auspices of a certain project. But it needs to be pointed out that projects are time bound initiatives. It has been observed that when projects are over gains accrued in overwhelming cases are lost. But the management of natural resources for ensuring sustainability is a continuous process which requires generally programme approach for continuity over a longer period of time for institutionalisation of the system and practices adopted. Moreover, project approach creates perpetual dependence on outside funding and facilitation. There will always be uncertainty about the availability of fund for the project which will put the initiatives taken by the project in jeopardy once the project funding is over or expires. As such, it requires mainstreaming the co-management approach with regular programme of the government for sustainability of natural resources of the country.
The writer is the Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka, and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh.
The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.