UN experts for halting water vessel movement thru Sunderbans

UN experts for halting water vessel movement thru Sunderbans

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UN experts on Wednesday recommended halting plying water vessels through the Sundarbans to avert further environmental disasters.
Considering the environmental aspects, the movement of water vessels through the mangrove forest should not be continued, they said while sharing the preliminary findings of the joint team of UN-Bangladesh Mission to Sundarbans Oil Spill at a meet-the-press programme at Sonargaon Hotel in the evening.Amelia Walstrom, the chief of the joint UN-Bangladesh mission, said while a number of factors limited the impacts of the spill, the shipping of oil through the sensitive forest Sundarbans presents a serious risk to both the environment and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods.
“The UN wants to make sure that appropriate safeguards and mitigation measures need to be put in place before opening the route to traffic,” she added.
About the environmental impacts of the oil spill on the Sundarbans, Walstrom said based on the mission’s observations, it could be said there is limited immediate environmental impacts on the mangrove and aquatic ecosystems.
“The commendable efforts by local communities and the government of Bangladesh, particularly the Forest Department, as well as timely tidal variations and the decision to ban tanker traffic in the river, minimised the penetration of oil into the ecosystem,” she added.
Terming the December-9 oil spill incident a serious wake-up call, the UN expert said the main shorelines 40-km up- and downstream of the site shows varying degree of pollution. “No visible impact on the mangrove forest floor due to the accident has been observed, and the initial acute impacts to the wildlife from this spill appear to be limited.”
She said a number of factors, including timely tidal variations and the decision to ban tanker traffic in the river, minimised the penetration of oil into the ecosystem.
Walstrom stressed the need for continuing a long-term monitoring on the Sundarbans to maintain its ecosystem as the oil spill occurred in a wildlife sanctuary and world heritage site – treasured for its unique biodiversity.
When it comes to impacts, she said, the rapid assessment recommends further monitoring to conclusively determine the effect of the residual oil in the aquatic environment and its impacts on fisheries and livelihoods.
About the movement of water vessels through the Sundarbans, Environment and Forests Minister Anwar Hossain Manju said the Shela River route is only way to carry goods from Mongla seaport.
He said the government is thinking about many alternative options of the route and it will finally decide whether the Shela River way will be closed or not.
The UN-government expert team observed that environmental emergencies like oil spills and industrial accidents represent a particular type of emergency and demand a specific approach.
Moving forward, the existing knowledge and solid disaster management experience can be used to strengthen the country’s preparedness for technological disasters, the team said adding that training, equipment and experience will improve the response to environmental emergencies and minimise the impacts on local communities and ecosystems.
The preliminary observation findings of the joint UN-Govt team say traffic through the valued and bio-diverse Sundarbans, World Heritage Site, should be avoided.
Deputy Minister for Environment and Forests Abdullah Al Islam Jakob, Environment and Forests secretary M Nojibur Rahman and UN representative Beatrice Kaldun were present at the press the meet.
They will release the full report in the second week of January next.
The team had left for the Sundabans on December 22 and returned on December 28. The main objective of the team was to support the government in containing the spillage and clean-up; and assessing the situation and develop an action plan for a phased response and recovery.
The UN and the government is working closely in looking at ways to develop an action plan/what to do next, as will be recommended by the joint mission in the assessment report. – UNB

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