From an ecological perspective the mass shift from Bangladeshis from rural villages to Dhaka is not necessarily a bad thing. The environmental devastation wrought by subsistence farming will diminish when people leave their rural villages and move to Dhaka. Even a slum city as Dhaka uses energy more efficiently than rural villages do.
But the rapid growth of Dhaka puts a lot of strain on nature within the city. Green areas have been dwindling at an unmatched rate in the Dhaka metropolitan area. Satellite images show that in 1989 about 20% of this area had a vegetation cover. This cover has gradually decreased to 7,3% in 2010.
As more and more city trees have been chopped down, to make room for new housing, office and industry buildings, the remaining trees were faced with excessive air and dust pollution. The soil around many trees is so compact and tough that no air or water can penetrate it. A lot of city trees are coping with vascular and respitory diseases and are slowly dying.
Urban and peri-urban forestry and greening schemes have been developed by the Dhaka City Corporation but so far the authorities have not been able to plant enough trees to replace the sick and dying ones. Dhaka City Corporation says that the main reason for this failure is that they have not been able to buy or secure enough open spaces for planting new trees. Critics however believe that low political motivation and poor management have also attributed to this failure.
If it is true that Dhaka City Corporation is not putting its utmost efforts in pursuit of a green Dhaka, and if it is true that authorities are lacking a real commitment to the urban greening programmes, I thought that maybe the inhabitants of Dhaka can be persuaded to make such a commitment on an individual scale.
I therefore came up with the idea of a commitment tree, where the people of Dhaka can write their name on a tag and tie this to a city tree. By doing so, they express their concern for the well-being of this particular tree: if you suffer, I’ll suffer as well, if you prosper, I’ll prosper as well.
Commitment tree was part of the project ‘Make a forest’. Together with the dutch artist Maria Verstappen and in collaboration with the artist of Britto Artspace we set up an exibition in Dhaka and the village Dohar.