Indian Catholic News

Industrialisation threatens Bangladesh World Heritage

Planned power and industrial developments threaten Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest


National and global rights' and environmental groups along with Catholic aid workers have renewed calls for the revoking of controversial plans for power and industrial plants near the Sundarbans, which is the world's largest mangrove forest.

This came on the heels of a United Nations body including it on a list of "World Heritage in Danger".

The World Heritage Center (WHC) of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), declared last week that downgrading the status of the Sundarbans has been put on the agenda for its 43rd session to be held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, from June 30 to July 10.

The WHC action is a result of years of unresolved negotiations between Bangladesh and UNESCO over two proposed coal power plants and industrial units near the ecologically important forest.

Up until now, the Sundarbans has not only been listed as a World Heritage Site but also as a protected wetland under the Ramsar Convention.

Since 2013, Bangladesh has moved to construct 1,320-megawatt and 565-megawatt coal-fired power plants within the Sundarbans forest.

The power plant initiatives have attracted a host of potential new industries.

The larger Rampal plant is a joint venture between national power companies of Bangladesh and India.

The Indian company, National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd., had to abandon two similar power plant projects in the Indian states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh due to strict environmental safeguards and mass protests in recent years.
Likewise, environmentalists as well as national and international rights' groups have strongly opposed the planned power plants in Bangladesh.

They fear that emissions and other impacts will not only harm wildlife and biodiversity, but also slowly destroy the forest itself, in turn threatening the lives of millions of coastal people for whom the forest is a "natural shield" against disasters such as cyclones.

In a statement, the Bangladesh chapter of Berlin-based Transparency International said the government should stop construction of any power plants near the Sundarbans.

"The UNESCO decision to put the Sundarbans on the list World Heritage in Danger is worrying," the international watchdog said on June 17.

"It is now proved that power plants and other industrial projects pose a significant threat to this vital mangrove forest. Power plants and all controversial projects in the area should be immediately stopped, and all recommendations made by UNESCO should be implemented."

Professor Anu Muhammad, a prominent economist and opponent of the proposed power plants, said downgrading the status of the Sundarbans constituted a warning, but the government was turning a blind eye to existential threats.

Source: UCAN

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