Through lobbying and lying, the government convinced the UNESCO to put off for one more year its plan to include the Sunderbans in the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, Sunderbans Rakkha Jatiya Committee said Monday.
It said that China and India influenced the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee’s decision the operation of which depends on 21 member states of which China is the most influential member.
India is an influential observer in the UNESCO committee and both China and India invested in coal fired power plants under construction near the Sunderbans, said the committee at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity.
Led by China, Cuba and Bosnia Herzegovina also opposed the UNESCO World Heritage Committee move at its on-going 43rd session to put the Sunderbans in the list of world heritage sites in danger.
The group led by China opposed the move saying that coal fired power plants and other development activities posed no danger to the Sunderbans, the jatiya committee said, adding that India lent it support.
On July 4, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee gave one year’s deadline to Bangladesh to fulfil its conditions to maintain the status of Sundabans as a world heritage site.
‘It may seem to be a temporary victory for the Bangladesh delegation at the World Heritage Committee session. But it is not so. China and India played important diplomatic role in halting the process of the relegation of the Sunderbands,’ said Iftekharuzzaman of the SRJC.
‘Bangladesh is the victim of a conspiracy and the government is abetting conspirators,’ he said.
China is investing in two coal fired power plants one at Payra Patuakhali and the 2nd one at Taltoli, Barguna while India is investing in an under construction coal fired power plant at Rampal, near the Sunderbans, under joint venture arrangements.
All the three power plants are expected to hurt the Sunderbans, said Iftekhar.
Sharif Jamil, member of SRJC said that China would invest in seven more thermal power plants at Kolapara.
‘These are matters of serious worries,’ said Sharif Jamil.
‘Adverse impacts of having such activities in the Sunderbans would become visible soon,’ he said.
In 2017, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre said that Sunderbans might be in danger from economic activities as coal fired power plants were being built there while 154 factories were also permitted to operate there.
The World Heritage Committee based on the centre’s evaluation gave Bangladesh a number of conditions if it wanted to prevent the Sunderbans from being relegated to world heritage in danger.
The World Heritage Committee found in its 43rd session that Bangladesh did not comply with the conditions and expressed its regret and concern over the failures.
The committee gave Bangladesh until February next year to comply with the conditions. It also urged Bangladesh for conducting strategic environmental assessment of south-western Bangladesh before allowing any industrial scale operations there.
The committee also urged the government to ensure that environmental impact assessment was done properly for any industrial activities in the Sunderbans.
The Sunderban Rakkha Jatiya Committee urged the government to freeze all industrial activities that might affect the Sunderbans until credible and independent SAEs and EIAs confirmed that these would not harm the Sunderbans.
‘It would be a national shame to see the relegation of the Sunderbans as a World Heritage Site,’ said Abdul Matin, member of SRJC.
Communist Party of Bangladesh leader Ruhin Hossain Prince urged the government to work with probity to save the Sunderbans.