Could Mangrove Forest Face Threats From Coal Plant?
Bangladesh makes a controversial decision to turn use coal to produce electricity, but this large coal-fired power plant is threatening the ecosystem of the Sundarbans, which is the world’s largest mangrove forest. In October, Bangladeshi and Indian officials were supposed to hold a ceremony which was to lay the foundations for the Rampal power plant, which is the new coal-fired project that will be situated on the edge of the Sundarbans. However, instead, the governments cancelled the ceremony entirely and announced that the project had already begun. While the governments say that the change was due to busy schedules, activists say the sudden scuttling of the ceremony was most likely due to rising pressures against the coal plant. One such bid was a five-day march in September which attracted the interest of an estimated 20,000 people. Opponents to the plant say that the 1320 megawatt project could completely destroy the Sundarbans, which is the nation’s stronghold of the Bengal tiger. They further contend that the water diversion to the plant, along with the air and water pollution and heavy coal barge traffic, could leave the Sundarbans an increasingly degraded ecosystem. Most of the impact on the plant and wildlife would be negative and irreversible.
The government claims that the plant will produce much needed power for Bangladesh, with around half of its 150 million people currently lack electricity. Officials state that Rampal will also cause minimal damage to the environment, with the Sundarbans their safeguard against natural disasters. Therefore no damage will occur to them. The construction of this plant is the beginning of an ambitious strategy by the government to increase the generation of electricity to 20,000 by 2021. This goal relies heavily on coal, with the Prime Minister proposing a dozen of new coal plants yet to come. Critics of this plant and the growing embrace of coal that the country has developed argue that the reckless strategy shows little thought to the environment. Few nations are as low-lying as Bangladesh and the Sundarbans is one of the most important protectors against rising sea levels and intense typhoons. Based on the projections of sea levels from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 17 per cent of Bangladesh could be swamped by sea waters, creating millions of climate refugees. With Bangladesh already being a global hotspot for cyclones and extreme tropical weather disasters, this only serves to heighten the risk and put millions of lives in danger.
Coal is a big business in India and there is no doubt as to the interests at play for the country. There is significant profit to be made for many companies if this plan goes ahead. Like the Rampal coal plant, the mangrove forest at risk is shared between Bangladesh and India. Around 80 per cent of the forest lies within Bangladesh, and the rest is in Bengal. This vast forest covers as much as 10,000 square kilometres and is a vital resource to locals who depend on its fisheries and natural produce, much as they have done for centuries. The Sundarbans play a vital role in the national economy and is the largest source of forest products in the country. It is home to around 210 species of fish, 49 mammals, 330 plants and 59 reptile species – all of these would be left endangered and homeless if the mangrove were to be damaged by the plant. As with many other global warming issues, this is something that requires far more thinking as to the damage it will cause not just to the environment but to Bangladeshi people.