Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Rampal Power Plant: A ticking bomb for the Sundarbans

Civilisation has many stories to tell, tales of man against nature, tales of man and destruction. But while, we may not have been there to save the fate of the likes of the Sahara and the Kalahari, what still remains of the great soul of our very own beloved Sundarbans is still a world heritage worth preserving, for the sake of our very own existence, if not, for the beautiful and unique lush greenery, and the flora and the fauna that enriches it along the way.

Photo: bdnews24.com

Photo: bdnews24.com

Sundarbans, the pride of our nation, the world’s largest mangrove forest, has been there protecting us like a mother, cocooning our south west region from natural disasters like cyclones Sidr and Aila. But as it stands vulnerable today to a man-made threat in the name of the polluting Rampal coal based power plant project, are we going to stand still or join in hands in solidarity to save our beloved Sundarbans, is a question that should strike the heart of everyone.

It is at the stroke of this difficult fate of our nation’s prime forest reserve, that we, concerned citizens, left wing democratic political parties, and people from various professions and walks of life, embarked together on a five-day long south ward journey, around 400 kilometers crisscrossing through a Long March from Dhaka to Rampal, Sundarbans, from 24th to 28th September, 2013. Our demands remain cancellation of the proposed Rampal coal based power plant project at greater Sundarbans, realisation of the Fulbari agreement, ban on export of national minerals and resources, along with full implementation of the seven points demand by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral, Resources, Power and Ports.

Photo: bdnews24.com

Photo: bdnews24.com

While travelers faced many difficulties, withstanding heavy rainfall, flood, along with food and accommodation issues for such a large group of over 1,500 people, what kept everyone going was the difficulty that the Sundarbans and the nation as a whole would face, if the Rampal project is implemented.

It is estimated that the cost of damage caused by the Rampal coal power plant would be around 6,000 billion taka. For the locals and the surrounding habitants, it is a question of their lives and livelihoods, a question of how their habitats will be changed. So, it perhaps comes as a no surprise, that the closer we reached to Rampal, our final destination of the Long March, more and more locals, starting from farmers, businessman, men, women, students, teachers, old and young, flocked around the streets and the bazaars in hundreds and thousands to welcome our resistance troops from the far away.

As we passed through a local bazaar, an old man expressed solidarity with our movement by offering our volunteer team at the pick-up truck water from a jug, water that is quite precious in this saline prone, and climate change vulnerable region. Others greeted us on the road with effigies of tigers, trees, and dolphins.

Protesters chanted slogans, carried and festoons, along with our proud national flag to save our pride of the Sundarbans, home to our beloved yet endangered Royal Bengal tigers, and the near-to-extinction Irawaddy dolphins. The rallies were joined in by cultural teams entertaining the masses through infotainment to raise awareness to save the Sundarbans from the black hands of the coal plant and its polluting smoke and chemical waste.

Addressing the procession, the National Committee’s Convener Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah shared, “Most countries do not allow set up of coal based power plants within 20 to 25 km of protected forests and habitats due to the extremely high level of pollution caused by coal based power plants. Based on this assessment criteria, already three power plant projects have been cancelled in Karnatak, Maddhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, in India. Thus Indian NTPC company would not have been able to set up the same power plant as in Sundarbans, Bangladesh, had it been in its own country as per their law.”

Secretary Chair of the Committee Professor Anu Muhammad shared, “No people can replicate the power that the Sundarbans possess. Sunderban has played a powerful role over the years to protect the Bangladeshi people during cyclones like Sidr and Aila. There are lot of alternatives for producing electricity but there are no alternatives to the Sundarbans. We can produce more and cheaper electricity using renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power. But instead we have arranged for the destruction of the Sundarbans for the sake of only 1,320 Mega Watts of energy.”

Acid raid, air, noise, and light pollution from the plant remain a concern for the natural habitat. Worries remain over the high amounts of harmful chemical gases that coal power plants produce such as poisonous sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Some broader concerns over projected emissions were acknowledged in a government-sponsored impact assessment. But the report classified the region as “residential and rural” rather than ecologically critical, lowering the bar for emission levels deemed permissible by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Chemical waste and transport of coal by ships over the Possur river will impact the whole river system, fisheries and aquatic life of the Sundarbans.

Curbing of deforestation is vital to our Bangladesh, the country most vulnerable to climate change. While troubled waters may be more to come for Bangladesh as the government clears proposal for five more coal plants, elsewhere in Portugal, the country is already powering 70% of its energy needs from renewable sources of energy. In 2013, US President Barack Obama called for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas, while it itself built almost 14,000 megawatts of new wind power in 2012 alone, equal to 20 average coal power plants.

In Germany, they have been shutting down nuclear power plants assessing the risks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan in 2011, targeting increases in sourcing from renewable energy to 80% by 2050. However, we, our low tech, earthquake prone Bangladesh is planning to embark on a high risk Rooppur nuclear power plant project with outdated VVER 1,000 model reactors, dismantled by countries as a requirement to join the European Union.

On the other hand, much remains to be seen as to whether we want to seek and explore on alternates of viable green electricity generation such as from rice husks, wind and solar power on an industrial scale.

Policies on state ownership of primary fuels for electricity generation, restrictions on exports of crucial resources, expansion of renewable sources of energy, and tax breaks on import and installation of green technology can play a vital role in mitigation of our power crisis in this regard.

However, whatever one may subscribe to, as Rabindranath puts it, Tora je ja bolish bhai, amar sonar horin chai’ (Whatever you may say, I want my golden deer).

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Mehzabin Ahmed is a development practitioner, working as an Advisor at an international development organisation.

– See more at: http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/10/01/rampal-power-plant-a-ticking-bomb-for-the-sundarbans/#sthash.nBkK8DHN.dpuf