Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

“Bangladesh Government tried to control and manipulate UNESCO mission trip and to make it one-sided”

National Committee Convener Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah and Member Secretary Professor Anu Muhmmad made a statement today on UNESCO team visit to save Sundarban as follows:

“On March 22nd, a three member UNESCO team arrived in Bangladesh. Their task was to inspect the impact of Rampal Power Plant and of recent oil spill and coal disaster in the rivers on the “world heritage status” of Sunderban.  Since 2013, UNESCO has played an important role in highlighting the flaws and gaps in the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report related to the construction of Rampal and Orion coal-fired power plants adjacent to the Sunderbans, along with other pollutant establishment. They have also expressed their deep concern over the passage of ships, the issue of cargo/vessel transportation through the Sunderbans area. This concern was expressed by multiple letters to the government by this United Nations organization. However, the lack of satisfying answers from the government ultimately led UNESCO at its 29th session last year to decide to send a ‘Reactive Monitoring’ mission in conjunction with World Heritage Center and IUCN. The March 2016 mission came to Bangladesh as part of this decision. It should be noted that Reactive Monitoring is often initiated as the first step toward declaring a site fit for inclusion, or for removing that site from the World Heritage list.

“Since the role of the Bangladesh government is primary in establishing the Rampal and Orion power plants next to the Sunderbans, and since their various steps and explanations were dissatisfactory, we naturally expected the UNESCO mission to meet with local residents, independent environmental experts, and those who have been active for long in demanding an immediate halt to Rampal, Orion, and other Sunderban-destroying activities.

“But we noted with dismay that from March 22nd to March 28th, the UNESCO team’s visit was entirely controlled by the government and the company lobbyists that have themselves been the main accused in all activities leading to destruction of Sunderbans.

“It is important to note that the UNESCO team visited the project area, the interior of the Sunderbans, and sites of various recent toxic spills while accompanied and guided by the people appointed by the government. They have spoken only with leaders and workers of the ruling Awami League, and not with any local residents  or affected families. They have met with and listened to the explanations of the employees of various government ministries, and the officials of the Rampal power plant. But the UNESCO team have not exchanged views with anyone in opposition to the Rampal and Orion projects, or they were not allowed access to exchange such views.

“We are aware that on March 22nd, the UNESCO mission have met the officials of the Department of Forest and Environment. On March 23rd, they visited the Rampal plant site area and exchanged views with the officials of the plant, the UNO, and the Chairperson of the Union Council. On the 24th and 25th of March, they had dinner with the officials of the Mongla port authority. On 26th March, they returned to Dhaka via Jessore airport. On March 27th, they attended a meeting accompanied by various officials of the Department of Forest and Environment. On March 28th, they attend another meeting accompanied by the Bangladesh representatives of IUCN, and bureaucrats and officials of DOFE, The Power Cell, Ministry of water transport, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Cultural ministry. We are also aware of the fact that the Power Cell presented a power point presentation in the meeting.

“We would like to stress on the point that the persons or groups who have been presented to the mission as ‘local representatives’ of the site area are the active members of the ruling party. No person or groups involved in the anti-plant struggle were communicated with. The members of the Rampal Bhumi Rokkha Sangram Committee, who led the anti-plant movement along with the affected people of the site area were not invited over any of the discussion which took place in the area. The local representatives of the National Committee were not invited as well. The independent experts and researchers who have conducted long term research on the impact of both the plants and the oil spill were also not communicated with. Instead, we observed with grave concern that the ‘expert’s who accompanied the UNESCO team are actually known to be closely associated with the government and played a lip service role during the last oil spill.

“Both the Rampal and Orion plants are critical projects and to have a clear view of the devastating impacts of those, simply visiting the site area is hardly sufficient.  We believe that it was vital to hear the views and the counter arguments of those who have been part of the ongoing movement, involved in extensive research, and writing with logic and evidences. The way the mission was controlled, the way the members of the mission were closely surrounded by the government officials, and the way they have been made obligated to hear only the Government’s view about the plant, it is by now clear to us that the declared mission which aimed to assess the impact of the plants and the accidents failed to operate independently.

“We seriously condemn the government’s recent attempts of controlling and manipulating the UNSESCO mission. WE hope that UNESCO, as an institution of the United Nations, will not be misled with such attempt of the government or of any other private entity or vested interest groups. We hope the mission would seriously overview the range of reports and researches published by the National Committee and independent researchers and experts, on the possible and the Rampal and Orion plant and the impact of the coal/oil vassal sink on the Sundarbans area. The people of Bangladesh expect UNESCO to work as an independent entity and to play a vital role in protecting the world’s largest mangrove forest and its rich bio-diversity.”