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July 31, 2014

Bangladesh "Long March" to Save Sundarbans Featured in a New Documentary

Last September, thousands of Bangladeshis joined the five day “Long March” from the capital city, Sundarbans Dhaka, to the city of Rampal to protest a proposed new coal-fired power plant. Now you can join the walk in a new documentary, “Long Live Sundarban,” available on YouTube.

The proposed coal project threatens the Sundarbans -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site which translates to “beautiful forest” in Bengali -- home to the largest reserve for endangered Bengal Tigers. It is also the world’s largest mangrove forest and plays an important role in the local economy and agriculture. More importantly though, the Sundarbans are a critical natural defense against cyclones, and it is estimated that every time one of these powerful storms hits Bangladesh, the forest saves hundreds of thousands of lives.

And the danger from these cyclones will only increase. At less than 20 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate disruption. As sea levels rise and storms worsen, the country will need the Sundarbans more than ever.

But this could all change if the proposal from India’s state owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) to build this proposed 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant moves forward. This coal project will not only contribute to the climate disruption threatening Bangladesh, it will also endanger their main protection against it.

But local activists are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.

“This proposed power plant at Rampal is hazardous in terms of economy, in terms of national equity, in terms of protection and utilization of national resource and in terms of public health,” Pinaki Bhattacharya, a teacher of environmental toxicology at AIUB, said in the documentary.

“If this consciousness develops, if people realize that this coal-fired power plant will bring disaster, they will definitely be active and government must be forced to abstain from this,” Shahed Kayes, a poet and social activist, added in his commentary in the documentary.

The massive turnout for the Long March shows that these efforts to win over the public are paying off.

Bangladesh is already demonstrating that there is a way forward without coal. There are over 80,000 new solar system installations each month in Bangladesh, and this growing clean energy industry offers an innovative solution to energy poverty while protecting the resources the people of Bangladesh rely on.

It’s time for NTPC and PDB to support this clean energy revolution and stop putting Bangladesh at risk from the ever-increasing effects of climate disruption. Until then, the thousands of activists who joined the Long March and countless others across the country will work to protect the Sundarbans.

As Shyamoly Shill, an assistant professor of sociology at Jagannath University, explains in the documentary, “Sundarbans is the integral part of the whole nature and ecosystem of Bangladesh. We have no way but to fight for conservation of Sundarbans.”

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

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