Weeks after Oil Spill Bangladeshi Government Response Draws Criticism

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladeshi civilians continue to attempt to clean massive amounts of oil from the waters of the Sundarbans where an oil tanker rammed a cargo ship during the early morning hours of December on the Sela River causing 66,000 and 92,000 barrels to spill into the pristine waters of the Sundarbans, which means “beautiful forest.” So far the government and the oil industry itself has largely failed to manage the cleanup operation in the region where civilians, even children, have been pulling toxic oil from the water by hand without any protective equipment.  The Bangladeshi government’s chief forestry official for the region, Amir Hossain, said on December 16 that “the catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this.”

Villagers carry oil in a barrel after removing it from the river surface, after an oil tanker sank in one of the world’s largest mangrove forests. (Photo courtesy of Think Progress)

Even as fisherman and children from the local fishing villages have taken to the waters and mangrove forests of the region to clean the oil by hand Bangladeshi Officials said the damage had already been done. Rubayat Mansur, Bangladesh head of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said most of the oil appeared to have already leaked out of the tinkered and surrounding area by December 12 and spread to adjoining rivers and canals where it spread to surrounding mangrove forests. “I visited the sunken trawler this morning. Only few hundred liters of oil remain inside, so almost all the oil has spilled into the Sundarbans,” he said.

“This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this,” Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, told the press. The Bangladeshi government has come under fire for its response to the disaster. Critics have said that the government, which has allowed oil shipping and exportation in the region for more than a decade, should have had a plan in place to deal with such a disaster and protect the environment and fishing communities from the threat posed by spilled oil.

Oil from the tankers has created an environmental catastrophe in the waters of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans, the largest contiguous tidal mangrove forest in the world, which are home to several rare species of animals including the rare Irrawaddy and Gangetic dolphins and the highly endangered Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans are also home to fishing communities who depend on the rich waters of the region for economic survival. The Sundarbans delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses some 3,850 square miles 1,000 square kilometers. The mangrove forests of the delta are a critical ecosystems, not only supporting thousands of unique species but also performing several important ecosystems functions including acting as one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing atmospheric carbon-dioxide which helps combat global climate change.

The Bangladeshi and Indian governments have come under fire for ongoing plans to expand fossil fuel exportation in the region, despite the threat to the mangrove ecosystem. Last year, Bangladeshi and Indian lawmakers initiated a plan to build a 1,320-megawatt coal plant 5.5 miles downstream from the Sundarbans. The plant would require a massive quantities of water to be desalinated, threating the region with an estimated half a million metric tons of “sludge and liquid waste” each year.

For more information please see:

Bangladesh News 24 Hours – BNP Probe Faults Government ‘Apathy’ For Sundarbans Oil Spill – 26 December 2014

Think Progress – Experts Arrive To Help Barehanded Children Clean Up Massive Bangladeshi Oil Spill – 24 December 2014

National Geographic – After Oil Spill in Bangladesh’s Unique Mangrove Forest, Fears About Rare Animals – 16 December 2014

Al Jazeera America – Bangladesh Oil Clean-Up Begins Amid Fears of Ecological ‘Catastrophe’ – 12 December 2014

Author: Kathryn Maureen Ryan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *