Non-governmental organisations of several countries have condemned Unesco’s decision to withdraw its objection to the construction of the proposed 1320-megawatt super thermal power plant, which is just 65km away from the world heritage site.
Professor Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, said: “Unesco, after a series of investigation and scientific research, recommended in its draft decision to relocate the power plant from Rampal due to its potential hazardous impacts on the mangrove forest, a world heritage property.”
He said Unesco’s recent decision was questionable and would only prove its surrender to the “vested group of lobbyists.”
Kate Lappin, regional coordinator of Thailand-based Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Word Heritage Committee failed to add the Sundarbans to the list of World Heritage in Danger, despite noting the likely environmental impacts of the Rampal plant on the quality of air and water in the Sundarbans.”
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She further said both the environment and women whose livelihoods depend on access to water and resources around the Sundarbans lost this week while corporations and a tiny few wealthy people won.
“Instead of granting corporations control over the country’s energy production, we’re calling for a system of energy democracy in which local people, particularly women, are able to make decisions over the use of local resources and the best way to fulfill their needs” she added.
Earlier, the civil society organisations also sent appeal letters to Unesco and the presidents, prime ministers and several ministers of Bangladesh and India to immediately take necessary steps to halt the coal-fired power plant project in the Sundarbans and to increase investments in renewable solar and wind power.
The WHC and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in October 2016 urged Bangladesh to relocate the power plant site, saying that it was posing a serious threat to the Sundarbans.
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But the government on July 6 announced that the committee withdrew its objection to the construction of Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans.
Despite this step back, the Word Heritage Committee (WHC) gave a number of conditions to Bangladesh, setting an 18-month deadline to fulfil those, before it can initiate the construction.
The committee also asked Bangladesh to submit an update report of conservation measures of the Sundarbans and the implementation of all the conditions and measures by December 2018, during its 42nd session.
Hence, if the conditions given to help protect the Sundarbans remain unfulfilled or Bangladesh fails to submit the report within the deadline, the WHC will enlist the mangrove forest as a World Heritage Site in danger.