Green activists term the decision ‘a defeat for the country and environment’
Bangladeshi green groups and activists have condemned the Unesco for giving the government one more year to place its long-term plans to protect the Sundarbans mangrove forests.
They labelled it as a success for the government that is implementing various development projects including a massive coal power plant in and around the forest, and a defeat for the country’s people and its environment.
They made the remarks during a virtual press conference, organised by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), on Monday.
During the World Heritage Committee meeting, being held in China from July 16-31, Russia, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Oman have repeatedly struck down the proposal raised by Norway to review whether Bangladesh has met the conditions to protect the Sundarbans as a world heritage site – declared in 1997.
Also Read - Rampal coal power plant needs more time
The next meeting to be held in Russia in July next year will decide whether Sundarbans will be designated as an “endangered” heritage site or not.
In the meantime, the Bangladesh government has to submit the State Conservation Report (SCR) by February 2022 and the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) by August next year.
“The Sundarbans has once again been ignored by the international community for financial benefits,” Bapa General Secretary Sharif Jamil said in his opening speech.
He said that the Bangladesh government and the countries supporting the extension did not care about the people of Bangladesh or its environment.
Tonny Nawshin, a representative from Bangladesh who was present at the WHC meeting, said: “This year’s convention is highly politicised. All the countries that attended the meeting wanted only to ensure their own agendas.
“We, the civil society representatives, didn’t even get a chance to voice our concerns before the resolution was passed. In fact, we are seen as the enemy of development. All we wanted was to protect our environment, for our people.”
Stephan Doempke, chairman of the World Heritage Watch, said: “Member states, participating in such conventions, will always look for their own profits. It’s a matter of great sorrow that a committee responsible for protecting scientific and cultural interests is taking decisions in such an unscientific way.
“They are completely disregarding the science and facts to address the disasters that we’re facing in terms of climate change. In such a situation, we have no choice but to organize public support to tackle these practices.”
Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan echoed Doemke.
Also Read - Experts demand scrapping Rampal power plant
She said: “It’s a matter of geopolitical interests, for which the government is ignoring all the concerns related to the environment and the people.
“This is not a debate of environment versus development. It’s an issue of geopolitics when the government agrees to import the lowest quality coal from neighbouring India. The government is spending taxpayers' money to promote the destruction of the environment.”
From the webinar, Bapa recommended conducting the SEA by an independent organization while maintaining standards as per the World Heritage Operational Guidelines (2019) and the IUCN Advice Note for Environmental Assessment.
They also urged the authorities concerned for the adoption of credible modelling, which will take into account the cumulative impact of air and water pollution of the proposed heavy industry in the coastal area.
All the accumulated data must be made public, and adequate time has to be given to the experts for reviewing and assessments, Bapa says in the recommendations.
The virtual event was presided over by Sultana Kamal, president of Bapa and the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans, and moderated by Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bapa.
Senior Bapa leaders and environmental activists as well as representatives of various environmental groups also participated in the event.