The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Centre has recommended to place the Sundarbans in the danger zone as the present government has not canceled the Rampal project as yet, nor has it taken any initiative to remove the factories from the area.
A 21-member committee finalised this proposal on Friday. This proposal will be submitted for consideration at the upcoming annual meeting that will be held in Poland from 2 to 12 July. The organisation said 8 of the 10 recommendations that they made were not implemented.
In three different phases back in 2013, 2014, and 2016, UNESCO recommended that the Bangladeshi government cancel this project. In their last effort, a group of specialists visited the Sundarbans and said the Rampal project would harm the forest irretrievably.
State minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid said “This is a matter of the environment and forests ministry. We have their consent in this regard and they will monitor whether we violate of the conditions. They will also monitor whether the heritage of Sundarbans will be impacted ot not. We will show UNESCO that the Rampal project will not harm the Sundarbans.
Due to UNESCO’s strict stance, a six-member team. led by prime minister’s energy advisor DrTawfiq-e-ElahiChowdhury, will visit the headquarters, said the ministry of power, energy and mineral Resources (MPEMR).
However, the ministry of environment and forests did not give environmental clearance. Environment and forest minister Anwar Hossain told ProthomAlo“We have only allowed them to run the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). We hope UNESCO will be pleased with our initiative.”
UNESCO published a report of 199 pages on ninety nine world heritage site where expressed their position and recommendation regarding the Sundarbans.
The report not only recommended to run an EIA, but also said the Pashur river should be dredged, all movements of water vehicles should be stopped and finally, a monitoring team formed to determine damage to the forest caused by the factories and the construction of the Rampal project, and to prepare a report on the subject.
The National Committee to Protect Sundarbans convenor Sultana Kamal told Prothom Alo “We have already presented eight papers on the harm that the Rampal Coal Plant will do to the Sundarbans. Despite our reports, the government is running the construction of the project will destroy the forest forever.”
“We want to retain the Sundarbans’ position as a World Heritage Site. The government still has time to cancel this project.”
The UNESCO report also said the government did not stop the construction work despite the scientific data that was shown to them. Back in 2014, a tanker carrying furnace oil collided with another cargo vessel and sunk in a river in the Sundarbans. Another cargo vessel carrying coal and cement sank in the Shela river. The government did not carry out any study to measure the impact.
The environment and forest ministry, the ministry of power, energy and mineral resources (MPEMR), and the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) formed a team and went to UNESCO headquarters in Paris and had a meeting with the officials of World Heritage Centre, where the team said the Rampal project will not harm the Sundarbans along with data.
After the team returned to Bangladesh, UNESCO published a press release where they said they will maintain their previous stance on the forest. Director General of the ministry of power, energy and mineral resources’ power cell Mohammad Hossain told Prothom Alo “We have a meeting with the UNESCO next Monday where we will apprise them of the initiatives that the government has taken to protect the Sundarbans/”
The National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Power-Ports member Anu Muhammad said “The Bangladeshi specialists pointed out how Rampal Project will harm the Sundarbans, then other specialists of the world also supported the their arguments. UNESCO reflected their opinions.”
He also said the government is destroying this world heritage with their obstinate attitude and this will create a black chapter in the history Bangladesh.