Final decision on Sundarbans tomorrow
The ongoing World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting in Krakow, Poland is reviewing the state of conservation of the Sundarbans, a world heritage site.
The session is focused on the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and will take final decision regarding the Sundarbans tomorrow, said Beatrice Kaldun, head and representative of the Unesco, in an interview with The Daily Star in her office.
When asked about the decisions taken in the WHC meeting about the Rampal power plant, she said Bangladesh as a state party to the World Heritage Convention has to fulfill the commitments stipulated under the convention and its operational guidelines to protect its world heritage site.
All state parties are committed to follow the decisions made by the WHC, Kaldun said.
She mentioned that following a visit by Reactive Monitoring Mission of Unesco World Heritage Centre and IUCN in March 2016 and follow-up discussions and consultations between the government and Unesco have resulted in the draft of decisions for discussion and adoption by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in Poland.
The draft decision was uploaded on the Unesco website.
"Some amendments to the draft decision have been made in the discussion session at the committee meeting. For example, reference to a possible inscription of the Sundarbans World Heritage site into the List of World Heritage in Danger in absence of substantial progress [in conserving the Sundarbans] has been revised," said Beatrice.
Another amendment was the timeline of reporting about the progress made by the government to the WHC. The original deadline was February 1, 2018, she said.
The new deadline has been set in December 2018. It means that the state of conservation of the Sundarbans World Heritage site will again be discussed in the 43th session of the WHC in 2019.
The government promised to conduct a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) in the South West region of Bangladesh.
However, the recommendations of the Reactive Monitoring mission and the decision of the WHC address a variety of issues, not only the SEA, but integrated management of the Sundarbans, or ensuring flow of fresh water in the forest.
All decisions in the meeting including the ones about the Sundarbans will be adopted on July 12, the last day of the committee meeting.
The Unesco representative said, once a property of a country is announced as a 'World Heritage Site', the country is responsible to follow certain criteria and guidelines under the convention to protect the outstanding universal value (OUV) of that property.
Asked how the Unesco would be monitoring whether the government carried out SEA properly, the country representative said, "The draft decision had a reference to IUCN guidelines for environmental assessments, but certainly, Unesco would support the government as required."
It is the duty of the particular state party to protect their heritage site fulfilling the requirements as outlined in the convention, she said.
A world heritage site is of outstanding universal value, she said, adding that the international heritage community may sometimes require more efforts or stronger approaches than outlined in the national rules and regulations of a country.
Kaldun pointed out that following the standard procedures of the convention, any major intervention at or close to a World Heritage site should be reported to the World Heritage Committee (through the World Heritage Centre) prior of any interventions. This procedure and opportunity was missed in the case of the Sundarbans.
She also mentioned that following the Reactive Monitoring Mission's visit in March 2016, Bangladesh government became very proactive and interacted with UNESCO and IUCN closely.
"Also, the Bangladesh delegation put their efforts in Krakow and showed a dedication about the Sundarbans, which is now an excellent opportunity to build upon with all necessary stakeholders at international, national and local levels to ensure the safeguarding and sustainable integrated development of the World Heritage site," she said.