Phulbari, Bangladesh – For the past six years, a growing concert of indigenous peoples in the northwestern part of Bangladesh have joined the protest against a planned open-pit coal mine here — what would be the largest such mine in the world.
The rich agricultural region has been inhabited and farmed by scores of tribal groups who speak unique languages and practice unique cultural traditions going back several thousand years.
The proposed, 6000 hectare project is being pursued by the UK-based Global Coal Management Resources, or GCM (formerly the Asia Energy Corporation), which estimates that some 47,000 people will be re-located, with only 2,200 of those being “indigenous”.
However, according to a recent report published by Truthout.org*, independent researchers along with the Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (National Indigenous Union) estimate that 50,000 people belonging to 23 tribal groups would be evicted.
What’s more, according to the same article, a 2006 Expert Committee formed by the government of Bangladesh estimated that two and half times this number of people would be directly affected, and nearly a quarter million (220,000) people would suffer reduced access to water for drinking and irrigation. Much of this will be due to de-watering of the proposed mine (to keep water from entering the pits) up to 1,000 meters in depth, which will result in a “massive reduction in groundwater.”
Of course, the full ecological and human impacts from such a large displacement are uncertain at best. The loss of land and water resources will certainly undermine the food/water security of these people. And although GCM has offered cash payments to many families and farmers, growing evidence indicates that such cash payments (as opposed to land to live on and farm) actually results in long-term impoverishment of the payees.
Additional news of concern comes from an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) commissioned by GCM itself, and which rated the risk that barge fuel could contaminate the Sundarbans Reserved Forest (SRF) as “extremely high” and “one of the most significant issues associated with the Project.”
The Mangrove Action Project is leading an international campaign to halt the Phulbari project. Project leaders assert numerous, devastating impact risks to the Sundarbans Reserved Forest (SRF). The forest is a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-protected mangrove forest and wetlands and contains over half of Bangladesh’s remaining natural forest.
The SRF wetlands include three wildlife refuges (each named on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list) and support an estimated 58 rare and threatened species, most iconic of which is the region’s last remaining population of royal Bengal tigers.
View a recent protest video (article continues below):
The sporadically stalled Phulbari Coal Project — if it moves ahead — will produce an estimated 16 million tones of coal, three quarters of which will be exported (primarily to Europe). However, another recent Wikileaks cable shows that the U.S. State department has been pressuring the Bangladesh government to move forward on the project, indicating US corporate interests are also at stake.
There are also concerns from human rights groups over the government’s deploying of its Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), ostensibly to protect GCM’s equipment and headquarters, but there are fears that the anti-crime/anti-terrorism force is being using to suppress and jail protesters. Reports of past abuses by the FAB include torture and a growing number of “extrajudicial killings”.
Meanwhile, the protests continue to grow.
Read the full Truth-out article: Energy at What Cost? Protests Against Forced Eviction from US-Backed Coal Mine Continue in Bangladesh
Bangladesh Protests photos : Shahriar Sunny (originally for Truthout.org)
Phulbari rice field photo: The Accountability Project
Satellite image: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data obtained from the University of Maryland’s Global Land Cover Facility.
Tiger photo: Cburnett ; CC – By – SA 3.0
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