Delegation to discuss ‘misunderstanding’ over Sundarbans with UNESCO

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

Sundarbans. Prothom Alo file photoThe World Heritage Committee of the UNESCO had warned Bangladesh government three years ago about the forest being endangered due to the Rampal power plant project and other factories in the vicinity.

The UN body expressed its concern and objections, cautioning that the forest may lose its status as a World Heritage.

Finally, the organisation recently recommended that the forest be included on the 'World Heritage in Danger' list.

In this backdrop, a high-profile government delegation is going to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris to clear up this 'misunderstanding' before the heritage committee's 43rd annual meeting at Baku on 30 June-10 July.

The delegation is going to join in a pre-meeting discussion before the general meeting, according to two of the delegates who added, they would go to Azerbaijan too after this trip.

The six-member-delegation will be headed by Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the energy advisor of the prime minister, and will comprise representatives from various government organisations including the environment department.

Earlier, members of this inter-ministerial delegation went to the UNESCO headquarters in 2017 and took part in a meeting with the organisation's top officials.

The delegation at that time, also, joined in the 41st annual meeting of the heritage committee held in Poland's Krakow.

During the meeting, a press release issued from the foreign ministry here claimed UNESCO had withdrawn its objections regarding the Rampal power plant.

On return of the delegation, Tawfiq-e-Elahi claimed at a press conference that there were no obstacles to go ahead with the Rampal project as UNESCO had withdrawn its objections following Bangladesh government's deliberations.

Director general of the power cell at the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, Mohammad Hossain, who was in the 2017 delegation and is a member of the current delegation, said, "The government has taken several steps to save the Sundarbans following all the UNESCO conditions," but, "this might not have reached UNESCO properly."

He sees this may have led to "some misunderstandings." He added, "We'll go there with all the proof and information. I hope UNESCO will realise its mistake."

The UNESCO report published last week said the report submitted by the Bangladesh government in December 2018 showed progress in fulfilling the conditions to save the forest was very slow.

A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) supposed to be conducted over the southwestern region of the country including the Sundarbans was not carried out either, the report observed.

The tender verification required for the SEA is not yet complete while the actual assessment will start once the work order is issued after the verification, according to officials of the environment, forest and climate change ministry.

It is natural to be stripped of the status if the rules and conditions to retain the Sundarbans as a world heritage are violated, Sultana Kamal, convener to the national committee to protect the Sundarbans, said.

The government is still continuing with the construction of three coal-fired power plants within 20 kilometres of the forest, she said in a statement on Saturday, adding, these should be stopped as the air and water pollution control system of these plants are not enough to preserve the forest.

Leader of 'Save the Sundarbans' movement Anu Muhammad told Prothom Alo, "The UNESCO observation is fully appropriate," adding, “the government has been providing the people with false information so far."

"The government should give up its lies and take meaningful steps to save the Sundarbans and stop all the industries near Sundarbans including that of Rampal."

* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.

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