UNESCO meeting to evaluate Sunderbans’ status

Ershad Kamol | Published: 00:51, Jun 30,2019 | Updated: 00:19, Jul 01,2019


A government delegation left Dhaka for Azerbaijan on Saturday to attend the UNESCO’s world heritage committee meeting where a proposal for relegating the status of Suderbans will be evaluated.

The delegation led by the prime minister’s energy advisor Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury will defend Bangladesh’s position against demotion of Sunderbans from the status of ‘world heritage’ to ‘world heritage in danger’ as proposed by the UNESCO body, a power division official M Osman Gani told New Age.

The environment, forestry and climate change ministry secretary Abdullah Al Mohsin Chowdhury, at a press briefing held at the ministry on June 18, however, blamed ‘vested groups’ in the country behind the UNESCO’s move to relegate the status of Sunderbans with out mentioning any name.

UNESCO on June 7 published the recommendation made by its official advisor on natural world heritage, International Union for Conservation of Nature known as IUCN, to lower the status of the Sunderbans along with two other natural heritage sites in the 43rd world heritage committee meeting that will begin today in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.  

The recommendation was made due to ongoing construction works of the coal-based power plants and over a hundred industrial projects to be constructed near the largest mangrove forest in the world, reads UNESCO website.

For this year’s world heritage committee meeting, IUCN has provided recommendations for about 60 natural world heritage sites facing threats and has evaluated 10 sites that are to be nominated as potential new sites.

In 1997, Sunderbans, home to the royal Bengal tiger, was enlisted as the natural heritage of the world for its exceptional biodiversity in both terrestrial and marine environments. 

According to the IUCN recommendation for Sunderbans, the forest is in danger due to severe threats from the coal-fired power plants and numerous industrial activities in close proximity.

Following a joint IUCN-UNESCO mission in 2016, IUCN advised the world heritage committee of UNESCO to call for the cancellation and relocation of Rampal power plant, a mega project planned 65 kms from the site.

The power plant also drew nationwide protest while civil bodies continued to term this as a transgression on the country’s most treasured forest. 

Despite all this, its construction has commenced.

The Rampal power plant is being built without making any assessment of its impact on Sundarbans’ world heritage values, the document said.

On top of that, two additional coal-fired power plants were now being constructed on the Payra River, which flows into the bay and Sundarbans, according to the document.

It further said that over 150 industrial projects were also active upstream of the site, and their associated shipping and dredging activities further threatened the hydrological and ecological dynamics of the region.

In the 41st session of the world heritage committee meeting held in 2017 in Poland, UNESCO welcomed the government’s decision not to approve the Orion power plant and Phase II of the Rampal power plant, according to the minutes of the session.

‘But, government did not keep any of its pledges to UNESCO even though we repeatedly advocated for it,’ national committee for protection of Sunderbans convenor Sultana Kamal told New Age.

‘The government should disclose the names and also should investigate the motive. If it cannot, they should stop the blame game and take appropriate measures for protecting Sunderbans,’ Sultana Kamal said.

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