The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) the government has been conducting to assess the effect on the Sundarbans by industries set up around the Rampal power plant in Bagerhat, has to be completed by August this year. The report has to be submitted by 1 February 2022, mentioning what the Bangladesh government has done regarding the 14 conditions stipulated by the UNESCO to retain the World Heritage Site status of the Sundarbans. Everything will be evaluated in the 45th session of the World Heritage committee. Then a decision will be taken whether the Sundarbans will be declared as an “Endangered World Heritage Site”.

These were the decisions taken from the ongoing 44th session of the World Heritage committee in Fuzhou, China on yesterday (Friday). The session started on 16 July and will continue until 31 July. Representatives of 21 member states discussed the draft decision on the Sundarbans in yesterday’s session.

In the beginning, the representative of Egypt opined in favour of not announcing the Sundarbans an Endangered World Heritage Site this year. The representative remarked that Bangladesh is developing in spite of a huge population living on a small area of land. Following the remark, 18 member states including China, Russia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Tajikistan voted for not announcing the decision this year.

Later, the representative of Norway remarked that the Rampal coal-fired power plant and the heavy industries around are severely damaging the Sundarbans. He called for stopping the industries. The representative of Australia also gave a speech supporting this. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay requested the committee to take the correct decision to save world’s largest mangrove forest.

Later, Bangladesh representative Qazi Imtiaz Hossain gave a speech at the invitation of the chairperson of the session of World Heritage Committee Tian Xuejun. He mentioned that the government has taken a number of initiatives to protect the Sundarbans’ status as World Heritage Site and its natural resources. He also thanked China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other states that spoke in favour of Bangladesh’s request.

Tian Xuejun read out the final decision of the session. He called on the Bangladesh representative to submit Strategic Environmental Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment and impact of industries on the World Heritage Site reports, completing those within August following the operational guidelines of the World Heritage Committee. At the same time, he requested Bangladesh to check whether the development work could be shifted to any other place instead of areas near the Sundarbans.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) secretary general Sharif Jamil said, permission should not have been given to set up large industries including the Rampal power plant at an environmentally sensitive area like the Sundarbans.

An effective decision should have been taken as per the recommendations put forward in a report of World Heritage Committee’s Reactive Monitoring Mission, he remarked.