Cox’s Bazar will be one of the most polluted places in the country when the 17 planned coal-fired power plants start operation in the district, predicts a report by two environmentalist organisations.
The power plants would pose a great threat to people’s health and livelihood, and biodiversity, it adds.
The government acquired 11,642 acres of land in Cox’s Bazar for 17 coal-fired power plants to be built by 2031, according to the report released yesterday by a fact-finding mission from Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon and Waterkeepers Bangladesh.
The possible environmental or social impact of the plants to the beach town have not been assessed properly, the researchers told a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity.
Bapa President Sultana Kamal said, “Development should be well planned and for the greater interest of people without harming the environment.
“We are not against development. But the government keeps choosing environmentally sensitive areas like forests, hills and sea beaches [to build power plants]. We don’t want to be the most polluted country in the world. We want to save Cox’s Bazar and Maheshkhali.”
Bapa Executive President Abdul Matin said his organisation had informed the authorities about the environmental impact of coal-fired power plants in others countries. But the government hadn’t changed the plans.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said, “It seems like we are talking to a wall, and the wall is the government. The government is sticking to its position and the people of the country are being deprived of their constitutional rights.”
China, India and Japan have convinced the government to implement those environment-unfriendly projects. A syndicate among the officials and investors is working to protect their business interest, he added.
“We don’t want the development which will turn the country into hell.”
Bapa Secretary General Sharif Jamil said that the government was planning to construct 17 coal-fired power plants within the next 10 years to generate 17,944MW.
Some of the plants will be within 25 km of Cox’s Bazar and Chattogram city. And all the 17 power plants will be within 50 km of Cox’s Bazar, he added.
“If all the power plants are built as per the plan, they will be polluting the region for 40 years and pose a great threat to people and wildlife. It will leave a permanent scar on the biodiversity.”
The 17 power plants will generate 72 million tonnes of CO2 every year, which is more than the total footprint of Albania, Armenia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Congo, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal and Zambia.
People living in Cox’s Bazar have some specific livelihood options. As many as 247,000 people and their families are dependent on a few economic activities, including catering, fishing, fish processing, and salt, betel leaf and shrimp farming. Those power plants would put their livelihood in jeopardy, he added.
But there has been no effort by the authorities to measure the losses due to pollution, he said.
The fact-finding team had worked on the issue for over a year and had visited the areas multiple times. They interviewed locals, studied satellite images, and analysed government and media reports, the speakers said.
They urged the government to conduct a strategic environmental impact assessment before constructing the power plants.