The Sundarbans is in a dangerous and precarious position today for a number of reasons. It seems the government has held influencing talks with members of the World Heritage Committee on the issue of the Sundarbans. This is clearly evident from the 44th meeting of the committee.
The nation must understand whether politics protects the interests of the country and its people, or is in the interest of a handful of profiteers.
Sultana Kamal, an adviser to the former caretaker government and current president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said words to this effect at a virtual press conference titled 'Recommendations of the recent meeting of UNESCO World Heritage Committee on Sundarbans'. BAPA and the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans jointly organised the press conference on Monday.
The meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee began on 16 July and ended on 24 July. At Monday's press conference, almost all the speakers expressed their frustration with the World Heritage Committee meeting. The speakers said this committee has been politicised.
In her speech, Sultana Kamal, on behalf of her organisation and the media, called for the formation of a strong Sundarbans monitoring team. She hoped a policy action plan will be adopted to save the Sundarbans.
Member Secretary of the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans, Dr Md Abdul Matin, said, "We have tried to save the Sundarbans. But the government does not want the Sundarbans to be saved. We will continue our movement with the common people living near the Sundarbans and the people of the country."
Mentioning the Rampal coal power plant project, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Chief Executive, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, said, "It is neither a power plant nor development; it is a geopolitical agenda. Why is the government going ahead with such destructive work even after so much opposition? The government is spending a lot of money on projects that are lagging behind. We want to develop on our own without harming the environment."
She also mentioned that China, India, and Russia have investments in such projects in Bangladesh.
World Heritage Watch chairman, Stephan Dömpke, said, "We were virtually powerless during the World Heritage Committee session. So, it is time to raise awareness among the people and create pressure through them. The issue could be raised in the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference."
He noted that the political impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting has been evident for several years, but this year, it has been evident not only about the Sundarbans, but also other heritage issues.
In his keynote address, BAPA General Secretary Sharif Jamil said the World Heritage Committee has failed to play an effective role in preserving the heritage of the Sundarbans through its weak decision making. In making decisions, the committee members has put political considerations ahead of science and ideological principles.
At the press conference, some specific demands were raised for conducting the ongoing Strategic Environmental Survey for South-West Bangladesh in an impartial, science-based, transparent and participatory manner, not through government-run institutions. Speakers at the press conference also demanded closure of all coal-fired power plants in Rampal, Taltali, and Kalapara, and a ban on shipping of hazardous goods through the Sundarbans.
The next conference of the World Heritage Committee is scheduled to take place in Russia in July 2022. Bangladesh has to submit its report by 1 February next year.