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23 August, 2017 12:14:17 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 23 August, 2017 02:37:53 AM

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UNESCO opinion on Rampal plant after assessment report

The UN body’s Dhaka office head Beatrice Kaldun tells The Independent
Mir Arshadul Hoque
UNESCO opinion on Rampal plant after assessment report

The UNESCO cannot play a policing role over the construction of the Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans, Beatrice Kaldun, Head of the UNESCO Dhaka Office, has told The Independent.

 

She told this to The Independent in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a programme at the Dhaka University titled “Sharing Session on Online Digital Library, Traditional Gains of Bangladesh” on Sunday.   

She also said that the World Heritage Committee comprising members from 21 countries will be the one to decide what steps will be taken by the United Nations body over the power plant once it gets necessary assessment report from the Bangladesh government.

The detailed interview is as follows:

Question: There are two fractions centring the Sundarbans now, one section that includes the government, is claiming that the coal-based Rampal power plant will not harm the world’s biggest mangrove forest while the other group is claiming that the plant will destroy the heritage site. The government is also saying that the UNESCO has given its clearance over the construction of the Rampal plant.

What actually is the UNESCO’s stance?

Ms Beatrice Kaldun: Look, this is not for me or for only one person to comment on that. We have a world heritage committee comprising members from 21 countries and this committee meets every year and takes decision regarding the world heritages.

The committee met in early July and the Sundarbans was on the agenda.  At the meeting, the committee looked at the state of conservation of those world heritage sites and it has a very formal way of doing so. There is hardly any exception.

Your government has this commitment of helping your countrymen by building the Rampal power plant, but at the same time the UNESCO felt that there needs to be a better assessment before the Rampal power plant is built. So, during the meeting, Rampal was one of the items of discussion but the Rampal is not the only issue for the UNESCO.

Because the world heritage sites is like your home; you just can’t repair one door, otherwise the roof may fall down, and you have to look at the whole house. And the world heritage sites are the same. You cannot just focus on the Rampal power plant rather we have to focus on the overall management.

So, the power plant was not the only issue that was on the agenda but I should say variety of issues such as the larger infrastructure development of the power plant, management issues, fresh water issues were discussed. Those issues were all reviewed and an official decision was made. The committee followed the standard procedure and the decision is publicly available on our website. In its decision, the committee has requested your government to make a very specific environment assessment and I understand your government has agreed to make this assessment.

The UNESCO and the committee basically said that the assessment should be carried out and once we have the result of the assessment, based on this result; it will be determined whether the construction of the power plant can go ahead or not.

Question: Are you going to make your stance clear regarding the feasibility of the power project before the plant is constructed?

Ms Beatrice Kaldun: The decision will be made before the project is implemented. The government is still required to do some very specific environmental assessment before anything is constructed. The onus is on the world heritage committee to deicide and it depends on how your government wishes to proceed. We and the committee request your government to engage in this assessment. Your government has been requested by the committee to send all its assessment as per the requirement of the UNESCO and give an update by December, 2018. So it is now up to your government whether to follow the decision taken by the heritage committee or not. The UNESCO or the world heritage committee are not the police, it’s still up to your government how they wish to proceed.

From the UNESCO’s side, we wish to support your government in conducting these assessments, which are very specific and very solid.

Question: The government has already given clearance to setting up industries and other infrastructures in the Sundarbans area. Does the UNESCO think that such infrastructures are harmful to the mangrove forest?

Ms Beatrice Kaldun: Well, the decision is speaking about the Rampal power plant only in brackets. The decision speaks about large scale infrastructure development and in bracket, for example, the Rampal power plant. So again, it is like I told you earlier about repairing your house where you have to repair your full house not only the door.... so, it has to be about all the major infrastructures and you see, there is a sequence as mentioned to you earlier. The world heritage (committee) follows a very established set of sequences.

We have the world heritage convention, we have an operational guideline that explains clearer steps that have to happen and that normally apply to any kind of government or any kind of responsible entity that is responsible for a world heritage site.

The (power plant) is a major development but it can be a road construction, it can be many different things that may have a major impact in whatever way on the world heritage site. It may be in a very close proximity for example in the case of the Rampal plant, which is not into the world heritage site but is very close to it.

Actually, you should go to the UNESCO first and to the committee and should inform them about the plan of action so that prior discussions or a better assessment can be made, and a better decision can come out.

Normally, the concept is to do these before a project is implemented but in this case, this has not happened. From my personal perspective, I don’t have a feeling that this is an intentional mistake from your government. I just find that your government has not paid so much attention to all the processes of the world heritage convention.

What is now happening regarding the Rampal plant, from the UNESCO side we are very positive in a very good way for your government to become more alert about the commitments you have to meet if you do want to have a world heritage site, same applies for the culture site that you have in Bagherhat. It is about learning the process.  

Potential misunderstandings can be kept away just by being aware of some certain action that has to be taken, but this did not actually happen. World heritage is running on an international level and also translates into your national level. We from the world heritage side are responsible for all the world heritage sites and we had a very positive discussion with the representatives of your government. Now it’s a way of keeping talking and understanding what your country needs and what are the requirements under the world heritage committee for the world heritage sites.

For us, Rampal is one issue that has an overall impact on the other heritage sites of the world involving many issues.

At this point of time, the committee still expects your government to first carry out the assessment and wait actually for the findings or outcomes of this very specific environment assessment regarding the Rampal plant. The UNESCO will also have to follow the decision. So what is now lying on the table is our guideline.

Question: The protesters say that if the UNESCO gives its decision before the plant is constructed, then it can save the Sundarbans. What do you say?

Ms Beatrice Kaldun: This is not how it works. The UNESCO cannot play a policing role. In regards to the world heritage convention, we are just a secretariat for it.

As I have explained to you, the government has to come to the UNESCO. Even though it belongs to the world, we don’t have the ultimate responsibility for the heritage site. The responsibility rests with the government of the country where the site is located. So your government should have actually followed the procedures of the convention and come to us earlier.

Question: What would you do if you find that the procedures have not been followed to the point?

Ms Beatrice Kaldun: I have already said that the government has to send us a report by December 2018. If there is any non-satisfactory area in the report, the committee might opt for issuing a stronger call for the government to follow the convention. It depends very much on what actions are being taken (by the government) because as a country having a world heritage site, you have universal values to uphold and you have to maintain the international standard. For us, it is just to evaluate the impacts on the state of conservation of a world heritage site.

Question: Will there be any visit by a UNESCO team to the Sundarbans?

Ms Beatrice Kaldun: A reactive monitoring mission came in 2016 as per the decision taken by the committee in 2015.  The mission came as per the requests made by the committee. It

always depends on the committee. Any further visit by any team depends completely on the committee. You can find all these information on our website.

MK/MK

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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