Last week, thousands of Bangladeshis completed a nearly 250-mile, 5-day march from the capital city, Dhaka, to Rampal, in the Sundarbans area of southwest Bangladesh and home to the worldâs largest mangrove forest. The participants -- men and women, students and professionals -- joined this massive undertaking with one unifying goal: to stop the 1,320-megawatt Rampal coal-fired power plant backed by the Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Bangladesh state-owned Power Development Board (PDB).
Home to rich biodiversity, including the planetâs largest mangrove forest, the endangered royal Bengal tigers, and nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphins, the Sundarbans was a finalist for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and remains a UNESCO World Heritage site. But it is also so much more. The marchers know that toxic pollution from the plant will not only endanger this rich biodiversity, but also people who breathe the same air and drink the same water. The destruction of mangrove forests will devastate the local economy, costing nearly $7 billion (5.4 trillion taka), according to Professor Anu Muhammad, Secretary Chair of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports.
Moreover, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate disruption in the world, and the mangrove forests are one of the only protections people have against powerful storms and rising sea levels. As Professor Muhammad explains, "no people can replicate the power that the Sundarbans possess. Sunderban has played a powerful role over the years to protect Bangladeshi people during cyclones like Sidr and Aila. There are many alternatives for producing electricity but there are no alternatives to the Sundarbans. We can produce more and cheaper electricity using renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power. But instead we have arranged for the destruction of the Sundarbans for the sake of only 1,320 megawatts of energy."
In fact, the very idea that people must choose between electricity and the environment is a false dichotomy. Centralized coal projects are actually very bad at reaching rural communities without electricity, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that if we are ever going to reach 100-percent energy access, more than half of services must be provided by clean, off-grid power. And the march in Bangladesh is not happening in a vacuum. People across the world are joining together to fight deadly coal projects and demand the clean energy alternatives they need to power the future.
The people of Bangladesh know that their health and well-being is intrinsically linked to the environment, and if the Rampal coal plant goes forward, it will not only poison the Sundarbans, it will poison the people and put their country's future in danger. When clean renewable alternatives are readily available, itâs time to get on the right track.