Story of Mahmud and a group of environmentalists behind restoring urban greeneries

Among all the areas inside the city of Dhaka which is, unfortunately, one of the most polluted and densely populated cities in the world - Gulshan is the premium and upper-class part of the city which hosts the diplomatic zone as well as several local and multinational ritzy hotels, corporate offices, five-star restaurants, and luxury residential areas.

The Dhaka North's upscale enclave with less noisy streets, leafy greeneries and modern apartment buildings, is already bestowed with a beautiful large body of water surrounded by dry land, called the Gulshan Lake - and the views from the lakeside buildings are worth watching.

"That was what I thought when I came here to live in February 2022 and then found that while the views are indeed breathtaking - the odours and environmental circumstances are not. In fact, it was hard to stay at some point; so me and my wife, Orla Murphy, decided to do something about it."

This came from the local inhabitant Mahmud Rahman, a renowned and passionate photographer and storyteller by profession and an anthropologist at heart, known for his specialised works in the field of visual anthropology and visual advocacy.

When the DC correspondent visited his house, adjacent to the Gulshan Lake on Gulshan 2's road 55 - there was already a gathering of some of the influential personalities in society, not for any random get-together but for a noble initiative.

On June 5, Bangladesh and the rest of the world observed World Environment Day 2023 with this year's global theme focussed on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution. However, in the ongoing crucial heatwave and the constantly threatening scenario of global warming, the importance of tree plantation has risen to the peak, especially in a setting where Dhaka has been sacrificing a lot of trees across the city.

"You see, we have been already facing these two issues on a daily basis as rented netizens in this neighbourhood. When we came here to live, we saw the lakeside lands being used for nothing but an open toilet for dogs and floating street dwellers-beggers-drug addicts, and a place for the activities of sex workers. Not only people from these social strata but many spoiled brats from affluent urban families come with their posh cars, only to leave behind their used condoms, wine and beer bottles, tissues and a lot of other rubbishes."

While describing these, Mahmud Rahman mentioned that the residents in the neighbourhood did not raise their voices against these mishaps and were not concerned about the minimal greens on the lands either. The water in the lake is also heavily contaminated, which is also one of the prime reasons for the odour.

Keeping all these things in mind, the couple of Mahmud and Orla started '55 Kodomtola: Greening Gulshan Lakeside' - a personal initiative of tree plantation on the lakeside in front of their house. Within less than one and a half years, they have planted over 1,000 saplings on that part of the lakeside.

"While photography is my profession, gardening is my passion - and we have a rooftop nursery in this building, When I stay in Bangladesh, each and every day I work in the greening mission from 6 to 8 in the morning and also in the afternoon. Since we started this, a handful of supportive individuals also joined us from time to time," Mahmud told DC.

The list of these individuals includes several notable development professionals and foreign friends currently working in Bangladesh. One of them is Nayoka Martinez-Bäckström, currently working as the First Secretary of the Development Cooperation Section at the Embassy of Sweden in Dhaka.

However, their participation in this initiative is absolutely voluntary. "As you saw, we are not an organisation and we are all volunteers coming randomly and welcoming anyone who wants to contribute time, plants, and ideas. Mahmud Rahman is the one consistent, driving force in this neighbourhood initiative called '55Kodomtola: Greening Gulshan Lakeside'," Nayoka told DC.

Another important volunteer in this activity is SM Tariquzzaman, Regional WASH Specialist, Asia Pacific at Plan International. Before this year's World Environment Day, Nayoka, Tariq and Mahmud along with a group of their enthusiastic friends gathered to take part in several activities.

"Behind this initiative, all credit goes to Mahmud Rahman Bhai and Nayoka Martinez-Bäckström. We worked together to clean the lakeside, planted trees, and made 'Constructed Wetlands' (treatment systems that use natural processes involving wetland vegetation, soils, and their associated microbial assemblages to improve water quality, equivalent to a floating garden and intended for wastewater management) and discussed a lot about zero carbon footprint lifestyle, and solution to plastic pollution," Tariq told DC. "This is also our usual working process whenever we get time to get along," Mahmud Rahman added.

Regarding this initiative, Nayoka emphasized the importance of a united vision. "World Environment Day is such an essential event to remind us all to care for that which sustains us and our societies. We had a lovely time in these activities, not just because of the wonderful mix of people who came, but mainly because we were in the midst of such lush, green nature - a rare oasis in the middle of this huge urban concrete jungle called Dhaka."

"Sadly, pollution is taking over quicker than the time it takes for nature to replenish itself. So everyone has to do their part, to save our nature - and I believe this '55Kodomtola: Greening Gulshan Lakeside' is a wonderful initiative in that regard," Nayoka told DC.

The initiative is visible on the Facebook page of '55Kodomtola: Greening Gulshan Lakeside' and Mahmud Rahman invites all interested environmentalists and volunteers to take part and support this magnificent activity, dedicated to saving mother nature in this part of urban Dhaka.

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