UN expert warns of serious threat to livelihood of 6.5 million people
The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world, lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal.
Stretching along the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans is considered one of the natural wonders of the world.
It has been designated under the Ramsar Convention on the protection of wetlands, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The site is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests, and presents an excellent example of ongoing ecological processes. The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the python.
Despite objections from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Bangladesh has approved more than 320 industrial projects in the area, including the massive Rampal coal-fired power plant, “bypassing” requirements for public participation and environmental impact assessment.
Last year, the High Court of Bangladesh directed the State not to approve any industries within the 10-kilometre buffer zone of the Reserved Forest.
On July 31, UN expert John H Knox said Bangladesh must halt the industrialisation of the Sundarbans Reserved Forest, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world.
“The accelerating industrialisation of the Sundarbans threatens not only this unique ecosystem – which hosts Bengal tigers, Ganges river dolphins and other endangered species – but also poses serious risks to the human rights of the 6.5 million people whose lives, health, housing, food and cultural activities depend directly on a safe, healthy and sustainable Sundarbans forest,” said Knox.
He made the remark in his last public statement as the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on Tuesday, according to a statement received from Geneva.
However, Government approvals have continued despite the decision, the statement reads.
“The threat posed by untrammelled industrialisation of the Sundarbans is emblematic of the threats facing the environment around the world,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“Of course the people of Bangladesh, like people all around the world, need to improve their economic well-being. But pursuing short-term economic gain in disregard of environmental costs is chasing fools’ gold. Without a healthy environment, economic gains are unsustainable,” Knox stressed.
To have truly sustainable development, he said, it is critical to protect the environment.
“And to ensure that environmental concerns are taken into account, governments must listen to the voices of those who are most affected by proposed industrial projects,” he added.
“Too often, the people who raise questions about development projects are ignored or even treated as enemies of the state. But really, they should be treated as the champions of sustainable development,” the independent expert said.
Mangrove forests provide benefits for clean air and water that extend far beyond their immediate location.
“We all have an interest in the protection of the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world,” Knox added.
“But even beyond that, the Sundarbans symbolises the choice facing all of us. Will we pursue development that respects human rights and protects the environment, or will we pursue industrial projects in disregard of their environmental costs, and end up with neither a healthy environment nor a healthy economy?,” said the UN expert.
On May 19, National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports reiterated its demand for cancelling all kinds of industrial units including Rampal power plant within the Sundarbans area alleging that the government has been destroying the mangrove forest only to serve the interest of certain quarters.