Today, thousands of Bangladeshi activists embarked on a Long March to protest the construction of coal-fired power plants dangerously close to the Sundarbans, one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are marching for four days straight in the subtropical heat, traveling from Dhaka to the outskirts of the Sundarbans. Daily rallies will send a clear message to the government: #StopRampal and #SaveSundarbans.
Rampal is a 1,320 megawatt (MW) coal plant that checks all the boxes of bad ways to provide energy:
It’s displacing hundreds of families—many forcibly, without proper notice, and compensated at half the land’s value.
It ramps up coal production in one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries.
It would require transporting coal through the waterways of the world’s largest mangrove forest.
It’s sited dangerously close to a UNESCO World Heritage biodiversity hotspot—the Bengal tiger’s sole remaining habitat in Bangladesh.
That’s an outrageous list of problems. It should make for an easy win when citizens push to cancel the project. But the government of Bangladesh has ignored fierce citizen resistance for years.
In fact, many participants in today’s Long March might be feeling déjà vu. In September 2013, 20,000 Bangladeshis marched 250 miles over five days to protest the Rampal coal-fired power plant.
The situation became more tense as protests continued. In October 2015, 25 activists were injured when police charged a march protesting the Rampal project.
Now, two and a half years after the first Long March protest, Bangladeshis have embarked on another—because, despite the determined local opposition, the Rampal coal plant is still moving forward.
And it’s not just Rampal. The Orion Group, a huge industrial conglomerate, started construction on another 680 MW coal-fired power plant right near Rampal, even closer to the Sundarbans—before the company received formal environmental clearance.
The Bangladeshi and Indian governments—whose joint venture company is building the Rampal coal plant—are teaming up with industry to abuse the human rights of the people who live near, and depend on, the Sundarbans, in order to build infrastructure that locks in climate change and would devastate a precious ecosystem. The swelling voices of protesters must be heard.
Photos: Mowdud Rahman (top), Star (bottom)