Photo: A 7 day, 250-mile march against the Phulbari Coal Project, October 24-31, 2010. Photographer: Anha F. Khan
UN experts warn that hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi people will be affected
Taking coordinated action to avert a humanitarian and environmental disaster, seven United Nations Special Rapporteurs have called for an immediate halt to plans for a vast open-pit coalmine in northwest Bangladesh. The Phulbari Coal Project would displace hundreds of thousands of people, including entire villages of vulnerable indigenous people, and pose “an immediate threat to safety and standards of living,” the UN’s independent human rights experts warn in a press release.
The Phulbari Coal Project is backed by a London-based company, Global Coal Management Resources. While the project may be enticing to developers, the UN release cautions, “for many Bangladeshis the wholesale environmental degradation of the Phulbari region will exacerbate food insecurity, poverty and vulnerability to climate events for generations to come.” The project threatens access to safe drinking water for 220,000 people, the UN experts note, and would destroy a fertile agricultural region “that supports the entire country’s food needs.”
This unusual coordinated action comes just as Bangladesh is formulating a new national coal policy, which has been impeded by controversy over whether it should institute a ban on open-pit mining – a measure which proponents deem essential due to Bangladesh’s extremely high population densities and the scale of displacement that would result if open-pit mining is permitted. Calling upon the government of Bangladesh to ensure that the country’s mining policy includes robust safeguards for human rights, the UN statement notes that the government’s goals of reducing poverty are far more likely to be achieved when human rights principles and obligations are incorporated in the national development strategy.
Bank Information Center took an early supporting role in opposing the Phulbari Coal Project, partnering with International Accountability Project to call upon the Asian Development Bank to disinvest in the project. The ADB was slated to approve a US$100 million loan and US$200 million political risk guarantee for the project on June 3, 2008. However, following targeted advocacy, the director of the ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department, Robert Bestani, notified the Bank’s Board of Directors that he was pulling financing for the project from the Bank’s funding pipeline in March of 2008.
This coordinated action by the UN’s independent human rights experts comes after IAP submitted an urgent appeal to ten Special Rapporteurs in September 2011, to ensure that the United Nations was aware of the severity and magnitude of the human rights violations and risks associated with the project. For further information please see the Phulbari Project pages at BIC and IAP.