A special rapporteur on human rights and the environment warns of serious threats to the livelihood of 6.5 million people
Bangladesh must halt the industrialization process in the Sundarbans, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world, United Nations’ human rights and environment expert John H Knox has said.
Stretched along the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans is considered one of the natural wonders of the world.
It has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site and under the Ramsar Convention on the protection of wetlands.
According to Knox: "The accelerating industrialization 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.”
He made the remark in his last public statement as the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment issued in Geneva on Tuesday, reports UNB.
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 Sundarbans area.
These projects, including the massive Rampal coal-fired power plant, have been green-lighted bypassing requirements for public participation and environmental impact assessment.
Last year, the High Court had directed the state not to approve any industries within the 10-kilometre buffer zone of the reserved forest.
However, the government approvals continued despite the ruling, Knox’s statement read.
He said: "The threat posed by untrammelled industrialization of the Sundarbans is emblematic of the threats facing the environment around the world.”
"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 fool’s gold. Without a healthy environment, economic gains are unsustainable," Knox stressed.
To have truly sustainable development, he said, it was 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.
The independent expert continued: "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.”
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 said.
"But even beyond that, the Sundarbans symbolizes 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?" he asked.