Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Worried Unesco sending experts to review situation

Update : 13 Feb 2016, 08:23 PM

A Unesco delegation is coming to Bangladesh to learn about Dhaka’s initiatives to tackle environmental impacts of a coal-fired power plant near the Sundarbans and the 2014 oil spill disaster that threatened to upset the already critical ecology of the world’s largest mangrove forest.

The three-member team, comprised of experts from Singapore, Canada and Switzerland, is expected to visit by mid-March, Chief Conservator of Forests Yunus Ali said, adding that it would sit with ministries, civil society, experts, media and locals living beside the forest, to understand the scenario.

A delegation of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will accompany the Unesco team and later file a report.

Yunus said: “The Unesco is concerned about the future of the Sundarbans. Its team will take a look at government initiatives to reduce environmental threats posed by the Rampal Power Plant and the December 2014 oil spill.”

With an area covering about 10,000sq-km, the Sundarbans was declared a World Heritage Site by the Unesco in 1997. The Sundarbans 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 Indian python. Its mangroves and rivers are home to a vast array of plant and animal life, much of it unique to the region.

On December 9, 2014, an oil tanker shipping about 350,000 tonnes of furnace oil capsized in the Shela River inside the Sundarbans after being hit by another vessel. The oil quickly spread in the river and its estuaries, threatening the ecosystem.

Yunus said the Unecso visit was positive and that its report would help Bangladesh take proper actions to preserve the forest.

The team will discuss the damage caused by the oil spill and measures to reduce further risks with the Shipping Ministry, which oversees vessel movements in and around the Sundarbans. It will also try to identify the risks and ways to mitigate them in a meeting with the Environment and Forests Ministry.

It will sit with the energy ministry to get updates on risk reduction measures as the coal-fired plant’s location sits near the forest.

Power-starved Bangladesh is setting up a 1,320 megawatt plant near the Sundarbans in association with India, despite opposition from environmentalists who fear the project would damage the forest’s ecosystem and biodiversity. The government says it will use super critical technology to significantly reduce pollution and threat to the forest.

Meanwhile, the National Committee to Protect Sundarbans has demanded stopping construction of the plant. At a press briefing in Dhaka, its Convenor Sultana Kamal, said the government had been implementing the project “through a wrong Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).”

 In a prepared speech, she demanded the assessment be done by the United Nations. The committee also wants halting other construction works by private firms in the forest periphery. 

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