FOR the last few years, we have been trying to convince the government of the urgent need to protect the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, which not only has an unparalleled biodiversity, but also acts as a natural protection system against natural disasters. But the government has refused to acknowledge the overwhelming threat to the Sundarbans and failed to take proper steps to shield it and its surrounding areas from incidents such as oil spills.
It is imperative that the government stops permitting the passage of large vessels and oil tankers through deep forests in Sundarbans. In addition, it should stop the electricity plants that would be dependent on the transportation of coal through these areas. Time and again, we have pointed out how dangerous the passage of coal in large vessels will be for the ecology of the region. It is our fear that what happened with the oil vessel can and will be repeated as large amounts of coal are transported in large vessels every day for the proposed Rampal or Orion projects. Let alone accidents, there will be irreparable damage to the environment on a daily basis, even if there are no accidents. When we raised the issue to the government, the authorities’ responded, saying: “We will give necessary protection, no damage will be done to the Sundarbans.” Their unwillingness to take appropriate measures to protect the Sundarbans is a reflection of how irresponsible they are.
Prior to the appalling incident, there were two similar incidents, one on September 12th and another on September 30th, with a spillage of 633 metric tonnes and 600 metric tonnes respectively. But those two major accidents weren’t enough to draw the government’s attention to how vulnerable the route is. It is allowing these vessels now because they will be allowing coal-carrying vessels in the future.
We cannot even comprehend how the government will tackle the damage caused by the oil spill. The government has no preparation or capacity to be able to do so. The Forest Department had given warnings a few times, but they have fallen on deaf years so far.
This incident has highlighted how unprotected our Sundarbans really is and how irresponsible and indifferent the government is regarding the present and future of our mangrove forest. It has also confirmed our fears of the grave dangers of allowing projects like Rampal and Orion to continue in the Sundarbans and surrounding areas.
As such, our demand to the government is that:
1. Employing all its capacities and energy to minimise the effect of the oil spill;
2. Stopping disastrous projects, transportation routes and other business activities that threaten the biodiversity of the area and livelihoods of its people;
3. Developing a Sundarban policy, not only to ensure the protection of the Sundarbans but also to increase the forests’ productive capacity. The policy must also clearly designate which areas will be considered as protected.
(11 December 2014 Published By The Daily Star)