Monirul Kader Mirza

Ashoka Fellow
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Fellow Since 1990


This profile was prepared when Monirul Kader Mirza was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
Bangladesh is perhaps the only country where water is as dominant an element of the environment as land. This giant delta carries most of the runoff from the world's largest mountains and edges so gradually into the Bay of Bengal that the difference for miles is measured in inches.
Mirza is setting out to provide a new voice in the most important environmental and developmental issue facing the country--how to manage its water resources. As a trained water engineer, environmentalist, and writer, he is organizing a voice that is scientifically reliable and disciplined, independent, sensitive to all the human and environmental consequences of proposed interventions, and powerful.
His intervention is timely, as the government, the major international agencies, and all their ranks of consultants are setting in motion a multi billion dollar construction program designed to stop the annual flooding from the country's chief riverain arteries. He plans to conduct detailed scientific and socioeconomic studies of the consequences of this massive intervention and others like it in four sample areas, each representative of the chief natural regions of the country.
Mirza has already begun work in the Chadpur irrigation area, and plans later to cover other regions, ranging from the coastal margin to the hill tracts. This work is already identifying such problems as increasing soil salinity, which has obvious negative effects on agriculture, as well as on fish yields (as fields that, when flooded regularly, provided breeding habitats and nourishment for fish, no longer can).
Problems like these can change the overall cost benefit mathematics for those evaluating these investments, and they illustrate how the effects may affect different classes of people differently. Some relatively prosperous farmers may take up artificial fish farming as a profitable response to the higher prices of fish the lower natural fish yields will cause, but poor people will simply lose what had been an important environmental source of needed protein.
Mirza plans to use his communications skills as his slingshot in this David and Goliath debate. He is sufficiently experienced to understand the issues and to be able to marshal relevant outside help. The problem then is how to get the resulting insights firmly before experts, policymakers, and the general public. He will follow several avenues. Mirza has just launched a newsletter that covers the water resources issues key to the country's development and environmental security. He will talk directly wherever possible with officials in the relevant departments. Finally, he plans to expand on the use of the press and electronic media in and out of Bangladesh to help him frame the debate for a broad audience as well.
Mirza will provide more than critical analysis of others' plans. He is already pressing for a constitutional amendment that would, among other ends, protect Bangladesh's coastal mangroves from shrimp farming and other threats and that would help ensure environmentalists can gain ready access to the courts.
He would also like to see an administrative or legislative consolidation of the agencies responsible for the various aspects of water management in the country. As he pursues his work, he is impressed that the failure of these overlapping agencies to communicate, let alone work together, is a major cause of the stupidity, waste, and needlessly hurtful results he sees so commonly as he analyzes the overall impact of the overlapping interventions on both nature and people in the several areas he is examining.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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