Sundarbans forest in danger says UN expert, advises Bangladesh govt to take action

Sundarbans stretches along the Bay of Bengal and considered one of the natural wonders of the world
Sundarbans stretches along the Bay of Bengal and considered one of the natural wonders of the world

New Delhi : The Sundarbans mangrove forest which is one of the largest contiguous forests in the world is under threat by "heedless industrialisation”, according to a UN rights expert. Situated in the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, the forest is home to several endangered species. But concerning the growing threat on this UNESCO World Heritage Centre, UN has recommended Government of Bangladesh to halt the industrialisation process, as of now.

Sundarbans stretches along the Bay of Bengal and considered one of the natural wonders of the world. However, despite objections raised from the World Heritage Committee of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Bangladesh government has approved more than 320 industrial projects in the area, including a massive coal-fired power plant. 

"The accelerating industrialisation of the Sundarbans threatens not only this unique ecosystem – which hosts Bengal tigers, Ganges river dolphins and other endangered species – but also poses serious risks to the human rights of the 6.5 million people whose lives, health, housing, food and cultural activities depend directly on a safe, healthy and sustainable Sundarbans forest," said John Knox, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

Last year, the High Court of Bangladesh directed the government not to approve any industrial development within the 10 kilometres of the reserved forest, but according to UNESCO, approvals continue to be given.  "The threat posed by untrammelled industrialisation of the Sundarbans is emblematic of the threats facing the environment around the world," the Special Rapporteur said, adding that "of course, the people of Bangladesh, like people around the world, need to improve their economic well-being". Knox stressed that "pursuing short-term economic gain in disregard of environmental costs" was simply unsustainable.

Knox, an independent human rights expert, appointed by the Human Rights Council, explained that mangrove forests provide "benefits for clean air and water that extend far beyond their immediate location". He called on the Government of Bangladesh to halt the industrialisation. "Pursuing short-term economic gain in disregard of environmental costs is chasing fools' gold. Without a healthy environment, economic gains are unsustainable," Knox added. "To have truly sustainable development, it is critical to protect the environment. And to ensure that environmental concerns are taken into account, governments must listen to the voices of those who are most affected by proposed industrial projects."

"Too often, the people who raise questions about development projects are ignored or even treated as enemies of the state. But really, they should be treated as the champions of sustainable development," the expert said.