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UNESCO report over threat to Sunderbans prompts global outcry

Scheduled to open in 2018, the plant would also discharge nearly 125,000 cubic metres a day of chemically-tainted water used to cool generators, according to design specifications. Photograph: (Others)

Dhaka, Bangladesh Oct 21, 2016, 11.31 AM (IST)

Warning that construction of a huge coal-fired power plant near the Sundarbans could pose a serious threat to the delicate ecosystem of the world's largest mangrove forest, the United Nations has urged Bangladesh to halt its construction.

 

Pollution from  $1.7-billion power plant would "irreversibly damage" the Sundarbans, the UN's culture and science agency UNESCO said, international news agency AFP reported. 

 

The cluster of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, spread across India and Bangladesh, is famous for its unique mangrove forests. 

 

Scheduled to open in 2018, the planned 1,320 megawatt Rampal plant is a joint project between India and Bangladesh. It will be powered annually by nearly five million tons of coal transported by boat along the ecosystem's fragile waterways, according to AFP. 

 

The plant would also discharge nearly 125,000 cubic metres a day of chemically-tainted water used to cool generators, according to design specifications.

 

In its latest report published on Tuesday, UNESCO has said the plant's construction would result in  'substantial increase in shipping and dredging in the area'.

 

The report has recommended that the plant should be relocated "to a more suitable location, where it would not impact negatively on the Sundarbans". It's pertinent to mention that the present site is just 14 kilometres (nine miles) north of the Sundarbans.

 

Rejecting that the project is 'politically motivated', Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier defended the project. 

 

However, several campaigners on Tuesday marched to the Indian embassy in Dhaka with a letter urging the Indian prime minister to scrap the project. According to the rights group, Avaaz Foundation, over  800,000 people from all over the world have joined a campaign calling on the Exim Bank of India to pull funds from the project. 

 

The state-owned Exim Bank of India has promised to provide over Rs 10,000 crore to the project, with 70 per cent of its funding, and raises this money from major international banks including JPMorgan, Credit Agricole, and Deutsche Bank, Avaaz said in a press statement. 

 

Luca Nicotra, Avaaz Senior Campaigner said: “The Exim Bank of India and other big banks are dishing out billions for a crazy coal project next to a World Heritage Site, promoting dirty energy and ecological devastation. People from all over the world are telling them unless they pull their funds out fast they will be dealing in the deaths of the last Bengal Tigers.”

 

(WION with inputs from AFP) 

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