1.         The Sundarbans (Bangladesh) (N 798)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1997

Criteria  (ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2008-2008)
Total amount approved: USD 75,000
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

USD 32,590 from Switzerland following a Special Appeal by the Sector for External Relations of UNESCO. 

Previous monitoring missions

December 2007: World Heritage Centre mission 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2014

At its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011), the Committee requested the State Party to submit a state of conservation report by 1 February 2013, although an examination of the state of conservation of the property by the Committee was not foreseen. To date, the State Party has not submitted the requested report.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN received information about the construction of a coal fired power plant in Khulna (Rampal) and a widening of the Pashur River along 10 km around Mongla Port near the property to accommodate the transportation of coal to the plant. On 22 May 2013, the World Heritage Centre wrote a letter to the State Party to request more information about this issue, and to remind the State Party of the Committee’s request for a report on the state of conservation of the property. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project is publicly available for download from the website of the Bangladesh Power Development Board (http://www.bpdb.gov.bd/download/coal_EIA_report_rampal_khulna/EIA%20of%202x%20(500-660)%20MW%20Coal%20Based%20Thermal%20Power%20Plant%20at%20Rampal%20in%20Bagerhat%20District,%20Khulna.pdf), and was received by IUCN and the World Heritage Centre on 15 October 2013. On 12 December 2013, IUCN provided comments on the EIA. A response to these comments from the State Party was received by the World Heritage Centre on 15 April 2014.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have also received information that the coal-fired power plant has been a catalyst for other infrastructure and industrial development downstream. Reportedly, these developments have not been subject to EIA, although they could potentially cause more significant pollution than the plant itself. Plans for the construction of an additional coal-fired power plant in the same location have also been reported. The World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the State Party on 11 April 2014 requesting further information about these reports. At the time of writing this report, no reply had been received from the State Party.

Additionally, there are a number of outstanding issues which were raised by the Committee in Decision 35 COM 7B.11. In particular, the ecological monitoring data for the property, which are necessary to assess the status of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), are still not available and inadequate resources and infrastrucutre also remain a concern.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The Committee is recommended to regret that the State Party did not submit a report on the state of conservation of the property as per Decision 35 COM 7B.11 and to express its concern about the construction of the coal-fired power plant in Khulna (Rampal). IUCN considers that the EIA of the power plant, published in January 2013, did not adequately consider potential impacts of the plant on the property’s OUV. While the State Party has responded that the Sundarbans as a whole including the property were considered in the EIA, an assessment of the specific impact on the property’s OUV should nonetheless have been carried out, in conformity with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment.

Furthermore, while the power plant will be located about 65km away from the property and local air and water pollution can potentially be mitigated sufficiently, the dredging of the Pashur River to facilitate the transport of coal to the plant, as well as the coal dust released into the environment during transport and transfer, are likely to adversely impact the property. The EIA for the plant does not consider the impact of dredging in the rivers adjacent to the property. Only limited consideration has been given to the transport and transfer of coal in close distance to the property and no mitigation efforts beyond already existing regulations are known. The dredging necessary to keep the channels of the Pashur River open for navigation is likely to alter the morphology of the river channels, which, in combination with erosion and sedimentation caused by the wakes of large vessels, would be likely to affect priority habitat for freshwater dolphins and other aquatic species, such as the critically endangered Batagur turtle (Batagur baska) and vulnerable small clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea). Coal dust released into the environment during transport and transfer is likely to have a significant direct adverse impact on mangroves, fish, and probably freshwater dolphins, amongst other endangered species.

While the State Party notes that an EIA for the dredging activities will be carried out before these will start and that experts from the World Heritage Centre and IUCN will be able to contribute to this process, the impacts of dredging should have been included in the EIA for the power plant, given that dredging to keep the rivers open for navigation is directly linked to the feasibility of the power plant. There is concern that indirect and cumulative impacts from the power plant, related activities to facilitate navigation, and other infrastructure and industrial developments do not appear to have been assessed. Therefore, the Committee is recommended to request the State Party to undertake a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of development in the Sundarbans and its immediate vicinity, including a specific assessment of potential impacts on the OUV of the property, in conformity with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment. 

Finally, the Committee is also recommended to request the State Party to provide updated information on ecological monitoring data for the property and on progress achieved with improving park infrastructure and the adequate provision of resources. It should be recalled that, at its 35th session, the Committee invited the State Party to request international assistance from the World Heritage Fund to further support the ongoing restoration of infrastructure and the procurement of management resources as well as a report on the state of conservation of the property, and progress achieved with regards to post-cyclone restoration and the results from the ecological monitoring programme.

Decision Adopted: 38 COM 7B.64

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-14/38.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.11, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),
  3. Regrets that the State Party did not submit a report on the state of conservation of the property as requested by the Committee at its 35th session;
  4. Notes with concern that the indirect impacts on the property of the construction of a coal fired power plant at Khulna do not appear to have been assessed, considers that increased navigation on the Pashur River and the required dredging are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), and requests the State Party to ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the dredging activities include a specific assessment of potential impacts on OUV, in conformity with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and to submit it to the World Heritage Centre prior to making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines ;
  5. Also notes with concern the reports of further infrastructure and industrial development downstream of the power plant, and of plans for the construction of an additional coal fired power plant in the same location, and also requests the State Party to undertake a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to ensure that cumulative impacts of developments in the Sundarbans are adequately assessed, including in relation to the OUV of the property;
  6. Reiterates that in the absence of ecological monitoring data for the property, it is not possible to assess the status of its OUV, and also reiterates its request to the State Party to urgently submit the results of the ecological monitoring programme to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN;
  7. Recalls that inadequate resources and infrastructure are likely to limit the effective protection of the property against potential threats from poaching, resource extraction and other illegal activities, and encourages the State Party to submit an International Assistance request to further support the ongoing restoration of infrastructure and the procurement of management resources;
  8. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015, an updated report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the state of conservation of the property and on the urgent progress required to address the issues mentioned above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015.