Sundarbans risks being World Heritage in Danger
Despite the government's assurance that the Rampal power plant would not harm the Sundarbans, the Unesco stays firm in its stance against the project and has again requested the government to cancel and relocate it to a more suitable place.
Otherwise, the UN's culture and science agency may place the forest on the list of “World Heritage in Danger” next year, says a report posted on its website on Tuesday.
The report, titled “Report On The Mission To The Sundarbans World Heritage Site, Bangladesh”, came after the government responded to Unesco's concerns over the Rampal project, saying it would go ahead with the power plant as it would not “harm” the Sundarbans.
On October 9, Nurul Karim, acting secretary of the environment and forest ministry, sent a 63-page letter to M Shahidul Islam, permanent representative of Bangladesh to the Unesco.
Contacted, Nasrul Hamid, state minister for power, energy and mineral resources, yesterday told The Daily Star, “They [Unesco] did not include our reply in their report. They have prepared the report from their own point of view.”
Asked whether the government would change its decision to implement the project at Rampal which is barely 14 kilometres off the forest, he said the construction work of the power plant has already started.
“We are going to use the ultra-supercritical technologies at the Rampal power plant. It is not going to harm the Sundarbans.”
In the report, the Unesco also requested the government to submit a report on the state of conservation of the Sundarbans to the World Heritage Centre within December 1.
The World Heritage Committee will examine the report at its 41st general session in 2017, and decide on the listing of the property (the Sundarbans) on the “World Heritage in Danger” list.
A joint team of experts from the United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organisations (Unesco) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) prepared the report following a visit to Bangladesh from March 22 to 28.
The mission was tasked with reviewing potential impacts from the construction of the Rampal power plant, assessing risks from climate change, and evaluating the overall management system of the Sundarbans, including provisions around shipping safety, says the report.
In the report, the expert team identified four key concerns related to the construction of the plant. The concerns include pollution from coal ash by air, pollution from wastewater and waste ash, increased shipping and dredging, and the cumulative impact of industrial and related development infrastructure on the forest.
It said the plant's construction would result in a substantial increase in shipping and dredging in the area.
Mentioning the Sundarbans with a fragile ecosystem, the report also expressed concerns over the issue, saying the freshwater flow into the forest has been drastically reduced, resulting in substantial increases in siltation and salinity that are threatening the overall balance of the ecosystem.
The report recommended the government's immediate action to secure adequate freshwater flow to the Sundarbans. It also calls for preparing a new integrated management plan that would consist how much pressure of development the fragile ecosystem the Sundarbans may bear.
The report also said though the government assured the Unesco that the power plant project of Orion had been cancelled, the Orion Group website states that Orion Power Khulna Ltd has already started implementation of the project at the site.
The Unesco inscribed the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forests, home to the famous Bengal Tiger and a hotspot for dolphins, turtles, and birds, on their world heritage list in 1997. Millions of people depend on this labyrinth of tidal rivers for food, homes, and flood protection.
Asked, Anwar Hossain Manju, minister for environment and forest, yesterday said he was not updated everything about the project as the ministry of energy and power was dealing with the matter.
“If they request for a conservancy plan for the Sundarbans, we will make it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National committee for Saving the Sundarbans, which is fighting to save the forest, issued a statement yesterday, hailing the report posted on the Unesco website.
“It would be a matter of shame for Bangladesh, a country that is vulnerable to climate change, if the Unesco inscribes the Sundarbans on the World Heritage in Danger list,” said the statement, signed by the committee's Secretary General Abdul Matin.
It also demanded that the Indian government do not collaborate with Bangladesh in constructing the “second class” coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh that would harm the forest and also the people of Bangladesh.