The Phulbari coal project in northwest Bangladesh is a proposed open pit coal mine and includes the construction of at least one 500-MW power plant. At full production about eight million tons of coal will be transported by rail and barges to an offshore reloading facility located in Akram Point. An additional four million tons will be exported to India via railway, and the remaining three million tons will be used for domestic energy consumption. Global Coal Management Resources plc. (GCM) operating through its wholly owned subsidiary, Asia Energy Corporation – Asia Energy Corporation is a single-purpose entity established to develop and implement the Phulbari coal project. On 31 December 2010, GCM stated that they will move forward with the Phublari project subject to the government’s approval of the Scheme of Development. The Bangladesh parliamentary Standing Committee on Power, Energy and mineral resources recommended that the country moves towards open cut mining methods of extraction. It was all good up until this.
The project will acquire almost 6,000 hectares of land (60 sq km) and, according to project documents and independent reports, will physically and economically displace between 50,000-220,000 people. This displacement will take place in one of the most densely populated countries in the world and will destroy a critical agricultural region in the country, threatening Bangladesh’s food supply. Over 80 percent of the land taken for this project will be fertile, agricultural land which will not be replaced, leaving farmers and families dependent on the land for their livelihoods with few options for employment. In short, the project would turn hundreds of thousands of farmers into land-less wage earners, competing for jobs in entirely different sectors.
In addition, if the project is implemented, the open-pit mine will destroy or displace: 1,577 ponds (used to earn income through sale of fish); 80,000 fruit and timber trees (plus many thousands of bamboo sticks); 928 businesses; 36,052 homes, barns, boundary walls and toilets; 106 schools; 48 health facilities; 138 mosques, temples and churches; 692 graveyards; and 2 ancient archaeological sites.
In order to keep the open-pit mine from flooding, the company will need to deplete the water table leading to water scarcity for communities around the mine area.
In addition to the impacts the project will have on water availability, it is likely that there will be significant contamination of land and rivers much beyond the mine area due to acid mine drainage. Hundreds of small rivers in the area are linked like a huge net, allowing polluted water to travel long beyond the mining footprint.
Another important environmental concern is that the project may lead to the degradation of the Sundarbans, a UNESCO protected mangrove forest because the coal will be transported through this area in barges. This forest is a habitat for the Bengal Tiger and many endangered species and also serves as a source of livelihood for fisherfolk and other communities dependent on the wetlands for sustenance. The Sundarbans also act as a natural barrier protecting the Bangladeshi people from the impacts of typhoons, floods and other natural disasters.
The grassroots resistance that has formed around the project has been met with egregious violations to human rights. In August 2006, the Bangladesh Rifles, a paramilitary force, opened fire on the 50,000 local people who were conducting a peaceful protest around the Phulbari project area. At least three people were killed, including a 14-year old boy, and over 100 people were wounded.
Following these protests, in January 2007, Bangladesh was put under emergency rule and a military-backed interim government took over in the country. In many ways, rule of law has been suspended in the country. Over the past 18 months, community leaders, individuals from non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and others have been intimidated, threatened, arrested and tortured. As one example, in February 2007, Mr. S.M. Nuruzzaman, one of the leaders of the social movement in opposition to the project, was falsely arrested and subsequently tortured. The Bangladeshi ‘joint forces’ were reportedly directed by officials of Asia Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Global Coal Management, to arrest Mr. Nuruzzaman.
In Bangladesh, fewer women than men work in formal paid employment (57.2% vs. 89.8%), more women than men work in the informal agricultural sector (67.8% vs. 59.4%), more women than men are illiterate (67% vs. 48%), women generally lack property rights due to patrilineal inheritance laws, and they perform the majority of domestic care work.
Thus, the Phulbari Coal Project’s potential displacement of over 100,000 people from prime agrarian land, plus its plan to de-water the mine area (appx. 314 sq km.), would produce the following effects:
•migrant women and girls would be pushed disproportionately into flexible, exploitative work, including forced prostitution and human trafficking;
•women’s relative economic inequity would deepen as male property owners alone receive financial compensation;
•women and girls’ time poverty would increase as they shoulder care responsibilities for family members exposed to environmental hazards;
•women themselves would face increased risks of disease, including HIV/AIDS, as they collect water contaminated with arsenic or engage in unprotected sex work; and finally,
•women would face increases in gender-based violence as civil unrest, police brutality and community dissolution all rise.
Recently, there was a Wikileaks release stating that US diplomats are, and have been, pressuring the Bangladesh government to reopen Phulbari coal mine negotiations, which was closed due to protest. Now the bulldozers are warming up once more: any moment now the coal mine could be approved that would displace tens of thousands of families, destroy vital farmland, and devastate mangrove forests that protect the climate-fragile country from rising sea levels.
For more information look at http://www.accountabilityproject.org/article.php?list=type&type=43