We are not in the least bit surprised that the World Heritage Centre of Unesco has declared the Sundarbans to be a “World Heritage in Danger”. The longstanding calls by environmentalists and organisations urging the government to take measures to protect the ecologically critical area seem to have gone completely unheeded. Although the Rampal power plant is the most well-known, there are around 300 projects in total, both ongoing and planned, to be undertaken near the forest.
The rigour with which industrial projects are being pursued in the area—despite numerous scientific studies showing the detrimental effects they will have on the mangrove forest—only goes to show that we have failed to strike a balance between development projects and protection of the environment. The Unesco has rightly pointed out that construction of Rampal is ongoing without having completed a Structural Environment Assessment (SEA), which is critical for identifying the threats posed to the biodiversity and flora and fauna of the Sundarbans.
The government must speed up progress on the SEA without which it will not be possible to identify the risks or to take steps to mitigate them. Such assessments are also necessary for ensuring transparency so that relevant organisations and the citizens are fully aware of the risks associated with development projects in parts of the country. This applies for every project being undertaken in the Sundarbans.
It is a matter of travesty that calls to protect the Sundarbans have so far fallen on deaf ears as we seem to be oblivious to the significance of the mangrove forest—both in terms of heritage and ecology—for Bangladesh in particular and the world at large.