20 years ago, people could not have imagined that there will be only 11.2% forest left in Bangladesh, officially; that hundreds of plant and animal species will become extinct; that there will be only 100 tigers left in the Sundarbans, if not less. The more developed we are becoming as a nation, the more we are damaging our environment and the government is now encouraging such actions.
The National Environmental Committee, which provides policy guidelines and directives to ensure environment friendly development activities with the head of the government as its chairperson, has recently decided to legalize around 150 industrial factories in five districts around the Sundarbans. They have also decided to renew clearances of 118 factories that received primary clearance in 2015 and give approval to 16 new factories to operate in the very region. Some of these factories are LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) bottling plants or included in the ‘red category’, which create extreme pollution.
Ironically, in 1999, the Ministry of Environment and Forests of Bangladesh had declared 10 km area surrounding the Sundarbans as ecologically critical area (ECA) under section 5 of the Environment Conservation Act and it was not allowed for any polluting industries to operate in the ECA. That is until now.
If the government chooses to carry out the committee’s decision, they will soon permit hundreds of industrial factories to function in the ECAs of the Sundarbans. What will happen next if it becomes legally acceptable to pollute and damage the little amount of forest that we have left?
Broadly there are three different types of natural forests in Bangladesh – tropical evergreen or semi-evergreen hill forests in the Chittagong Hill Tracks and other hilly regions across the country, sal forests in the central plain regions and the mangrove forests, mainly in the Sundarbans. The sal forests have almost disappeared and the hill forests are also gravely damaged by human actions. Now the relatively less affected mangrove forest is facing similar threats and actions that are supported by the government itself.
Reportedly, poachers are now using deer corpses covered in a type of insecticide called ‘Furadan’ to kill Royal Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans. The number of tigers in the mangroves of Bangladesh has already reduced by half in the last 10 years (from 200 to only 100 tigers but most likely even less). On top of the already extinct species, many other species of animals, birds, and plants in the Sundarbans are on the verge of extinction. In this critical situation, what could possibly be the outcome other than a catastrophic one if hundreds of factories are encouraged to operate around the Sundarbans?
Then there are the controversies regarding the infamous Rampal Power Plant.
The Foreign Ministry of the Bangladesh government announced on July 7, 2017 that UNESCO has withdrawn their objections against Rampal Power Plant and changed their decision to remove the Sundarbans from the world heritage list if the plant is built.
However, the final report of the 41th session of UNESCO in Poland was published on July 30, 2017, which clearly stated that UNESCO has requested the government to NOT build any large-scale industrial infrastructure in the region without completion of a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). And they PARTICULARY requested the government to carry out a SEA on the impacts of Rampal Power Plant.
Despite the pathetic efforts of the authorities to cover up this information, it is now clear to all that UNESCO recommended the government to not build any factory, including the Rampal Power Plant, near the Sundarbans before proper environmental assessment. However, the authorities are determined to not move away from their position even in the face of national and international criticism. Whatever may be the reasons behind this unfortunate attitude, the establishment of Rampal Power Plant will mark a grimmer chapter for our country’s already dire environmental condition.
No one is arguing the fact that the country needs to become more developed, which requires solving the problem of energy shortage. But shouldn’t the largest power plant of the country be built in a location that will not generate electricity at the cost of our most important natural heritage? Do we really need to choose between the two? It is befuddling to think that this is even happening.
The power plant will supposedly have the necessary technologies to reduce air, water and noise pollution. Will it? Why are most of the national and international environmentalists not convinced that this will be the case? In order to cause minimum pollution, the factories will need to strictly follow the terms and conditions that come with the approval. Will they?
These questions need to be answered. At the very least, a globally-accepted environmental assessment needs to be carried out before moving forward with the decisions. Otherwise, why should anyone believe such claims to be true, especially considering the recent unfolding of embarrassing events?
It is simply undeniable that a giant coal-based power plant and hundreds of other factories around the Sundarbans will cause fatal and irreversible damages to the habitat of many animal and plant species that are already extremely vulnerable.
Instead of taking the long overdue steps to conserve the Sundarbans, the government is building a giant power plant themselves and allowing other factories be legally functional in the very forest area they are supposed to protect. No matter whatever economic and political advantages they are to gain from this, the government needs to choose saving the Sundarbans over other options if they want the peoples’ support. Otherwise, this may lead to catastrophic events that will harm everyone involved.
*All the images were collected from different online sources.