Rivers Bangladesh’s lifeline, says Norwegian envoy Bleken
Norway wants to help Bangladesh combat its river and plastic pollution; and explore marine resources in a “sustainable way” so that it can achieve its development goals.
“Combatting pollution is the most important thing to do,” Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken, who fell in love with Bangladeshi rivers, told Dhaka Courier in an interview.
Ten rivers in the world, including the Ganges, are shockingly contributing 80 to 90 percent of plastic pollution to the world's oceans.
Both Bangladeshis and Norwegians have lived by the sea and off the sea for more than a thousand years, and Norway says a clean and healthy ocean is equally important for both countries.
Ambassador Bleken who visited the Sundarbans, mighty river Padma and the rivers around Dhaka, river Turag in particular, said rivers are the “lifeline” of Bangladesh and laid emphasis on engaging with industries to deal with issues relating to river pollution.
Sharing her recent river-cruise experience, the Ambassador said still lots of things are there that need to be done when it comes to cleaning the discharged water coming from industries.
She said it is not the responsibility of the government alone as industries have a role to play in controlling river pollution. “That’s extremely important.”
Bleken who spent almost three years in Bangladesh said there is pollution which is also coming from households and gave much importance to the cleanliness of water bodies.
Norway’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Mona Juul has been elected as the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for a one-year (2020-2021) term.
The ECOSOC president plays a key role in the UN, with responsibility for following up the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the financing for development agenda.
“We’re pleased that Bangladesh is also an ECOSOC member. We would like to work together with a number of countries so that sustainable goals are achieved,” Bleken said adding that it is a common responsibility for all the countries in the world, and Norway is very much looking forward to working with Bangladesh on that front.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on all leaders to come to New York on September 23 with concrete and realistic plans to enhance their nationally-determined contributions by 2020 on climate front.
About the upcoming Summit, she said one of the things that Bangladesh can do of course to highlights the affects and the challenges that will have on the country.
Another thing, she hoped, Bangladesh can give very good examples about Bangladesh how it has been able to adapt to the climate change. “I think you’re world leader in adaptation to climate change.”
She said it is important to have dialogue on mitigation and adaptation and; also roles and responsibilities of various countries.
The Ambassador said Bangladesh is unfortunately vulnerable to two different sources – it is vulnerable because of increase in temperature making the sea-level rise and ice melting in the Himalayas which will trench the life of rivers in Bangladesh.
She said Norway has launched huge programmes globally on combating plastic pollution and littering. “We hope to work with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; and also with United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) on reducing plastic pollution in Bangladesh.”
Responding to a question, she said they look for other opportunities and other areas where they can cooperate when it comes to reducing pollution.
The Ambassador said they would like to cooperate more with Bangladesh on management of fisheries resources.
“Norway has the most modern fishery research vessel which visited Bangladesh last year. We hope it’ll come back to Bangladesh in a year or two to make the assessment of fisheries stocks but also on the level of pollution,” Bleken said adding that Bangladesh needs to manage fisheries resources in a sustainable manner.
Expediting global efforts for “voluntary, safe” Rohingya repatriation
Norway has laid emphasis on working together to make sure that things are improving on Myanmar side and expediting the global efforts to ensure the “voluntary and safe” return of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State.
“We’ll have to work together to make sure that things are improving on Myanmar side. I’m working very closely with the Norwegian Embassy in Yangon,” said Norwegian Ambassador Bleken.
Ambassador Bleken, who attended the annual meeting of ambassadors on August 19, said she had talks with the envoys of the neighbouring countries and Asean member states to find ways how they can do together in the region.
Responding to a question, she said the role Norway can play is to be part of the international community’s dialogue with Myanmar authorities, support the UN efforts and have dialogue with a number of other countries in the region that may have greater influence in the region.
Bangladesh and Myanmar are trying to go for the second attempt to begin the repatriation of Rohingyas this month with a tentative date -- August 22.
The first batch of Rohingyas was scheduled to return on November 15 last year but it was halted amid unwillingness of Rohingyas to go back for lack of a congenial environment in Rakhine.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen hoped that the repatriation of Rohingyas will begin this month on a small scale. “I’m very positive…I’m expecting that we can start this month.”
Talking about the likelihood of resuming repatriation, Ambassador Bleken echoed what the United Nations and many other countries have said before - repatriation must be “voluntary and safe.”
The envoy said she would love to see the repatriation takes place but reminded that there are three parties -- Myanmar, Bangladesh and Rohingyas themselves.
“Based on what I’ve seen and heard, they (Rohingya) really want to go back, but they don’t want to go back before they’re feeling safe,” she added.
On July 29, Bangladesh handed a fresh list of 25,000 Rohingyas from around 6,000 families to Myanmar for verification before their repatriation to Rakhine State.
With the latest list, Bangladesh has so far handed the names of around 55,000 Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities and around 8,000 of them have been verified.
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered the country since August 25, 2017. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018 Bangladesh and Myanmar inked a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
The “Physical Arrangement” stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start.