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Mangroves or Electricity in Bangladesh?

June 23, 2015
topic:Global Warming
tags:#Bangladesh, #climate change, #global-warming, #mangroves, #Rampal, #sheikh hasina, #Sundarbans
by:Jonathan Lutes
Bangladesh is developing faster than its power supply can handle. The growing textile industry is only one of many factors that makes changes to the Bangladeshi power grid a necessity.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is now planning to build a coal-fired power plant in the Rampal region, which is only 14 kilometers to the northeast of the world’s largest single block mangrove forest.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site of thick mangrove forest is called the Sundarbans, from the two Bengali words Shundor (beautiful) and bon (forest). Mangroves are halophytic trees, i.e. they grow in saline water. This is why the Sundarbans are located in the Bay of Bengal, where they protect the land from rough tides while filtering carbon dioxide out of the air. In light of global warming, this ecosystem might be one of the few small factors that could help delay the effects of the rising sea levels Bangladesh will soon face.

So why build a power plant there? The answer is: there are few other options. The country has a limited landmass, especially since non-sustainable agriculture has used up more and more land. Sheikh Hasina has already tapped into other sources, such as electricity bought from India. The planned Rampal plant could make a great difference in Ms Hasina’s struggle to minimize power failures, which leave the rural population without electricity and hurt the economy. Plus, the Sundarbans have a complex system of waterways that will be useful to transport coal, which will be bought in India and shipped to the power plant. It is without question that these waterways, as well as the delicate ecological balance of the Sundarbans, will be greatly damaged by these plans.

Novelist and anthropologist Tahmima Anam is pleading the Bangladeshi government to look past immediate needs. Bangladesh has a history of calling itself too poor and too small to pose as an example in environmental politics. Growth has always had priority over sustainability. But sustainability and environmentalist policies could be what will make Bangladesh not only an example, but at the same time eligible for international support and pressure on other nations to reduce their carbon output.

Article written by:
Jonathan Lutes
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