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The Sundarbans

Bangladesh
Factors affecting the property in 2021*
  • Changes to oceanic waters
  • Forestry /wood production
  • Illegal activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Non-renewable energy facilities
  • Pollution of marine waters
  • Storms
  • Water infrastructure
  • Other Threats:

    Need for an assessment of cumulative impacts on the property via a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Pollution of marine waters
  • Changes to oceanic waters (High level of salinity, sea level rise)
  • Water infrastructure (Reduction in freshwater inflows, dredging of the Pashur River)
  • Management systems/management plan (Overall governance and management of the property)
  • Storms (Loss of monitoring capacity due to cyclone damage)
  • Illegal activities (Tiger poaching)
  • Forestry/wood production (Unsustainable harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products)
  • Non-renewable energy facilities (Thermal Power Plant project such as the Rampal power plant development project)
  • Others: Need for an assessment of cumulative impacts on the property via a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2021

Total amount granted: USD 32,590 from Switzerland following a Special Appeal by the Sector for External Relations of UNESCO; 2017: USD 32,527 from the UNESCO Netherlands Funds-in-Trust for technical support to the Sundarbans World Heritage property

International Assistance: requests for the property until 2021
Requests approved: 1 (from 2008-2008)
Total amount approved : 75,000 USD
Missions to the property until 2021**

December 2007: World Heritage Centre mission; March 2016: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; December 2019: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

A joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property took place from 9 to 17 December 2019. The State Party provided additional information and clarifications requested by the mission team on 30 December 2019 and 13 May 2020. The mission report is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/documents/.

On 31 January 2020, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, followed by an update on 25 May 2021. Both are available at the link above and provide the following information:

  • Conservation measures for the property have been strengthened, notably through intensified Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) patrols; implementation of the second-generation Tiger Action Plan (2018-2027); establishment of three additional dolphin sanctuaries in 2020; upscaled co-management with local communities; initiation of “Sundarbans Conservation” Project in January 2021 to establish a long-term ecological monitoring system for the property;
  • Efforts have been made to increase freshwater flows into the South-West region including the property, notably through a Gorai River restoration project including dredging to be completed by 2022 in line with the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100;
  • The implementation of action points agreed by the two States Parties at the first meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint Working Group (JWG) in 2016 is in progress. The second meeting scheduled for 2020 was postponed upon request by the State Party of India;
  • The State Party has not given environmental clearance or permission for any large-scale industrial/infrastructural development adjacent to the property since the adoption of Decision 41 COM 7B.25. Of the 154 industrial enterprises within the Sundarbans Ecologically Critical Area (ECA), 24 are categorized as large-scale or Red Category industry, four of which are not operating due to the absence of environmental clearance;
  • Dredging activities are ongoing in the Inner and Outer bar Areas of the Pashur River, following the approval of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) by the Department of Environment (DoE), conducted in line with the IUCN World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and include an assessment of potential impacts on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). Dredged materials are disposed of in accordance with the Environmental Management Plans (EMPs);
  • The National Oil and Chemical Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCOP), which includes the provision of funding and human resources for its implementation, was approved by the Cabinet in February 2020;
  • The construction of the Rampal power plant is in progress after having obtained the requisite and statutory environmental clearances as per the national legislation, and 66% of the project has been completed. An EIA for coal transportation was approved by DoE in January 2018. Mitigation and contingency measures are in place through the implementation of the EMP. Quarterly reports on environmental monitoring results in and around the project area and along Pashur River, including water and air quality and noise levels, are publicly available online;
  • Two consulting firms were contracted to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the South-West region of Bangladesh in December 2019. The SEA, covering a total of 89 Policies, Plans and Programmes (PPP) of 28 relevant sectors, is under implementation in compliance with OECD guidelines and the Operational Guidelines of the 1972 Convention. Several reports have been published and are available on the dedicated website.

During an online meeting on 15 May 2020, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN received updates on the SEA from a team consisting of the two consulting firms.

On 3 June 2020 and 12 April 2021, the State Party provided information on the damage caused by Cyclone Amphan to the property and on a shipping accident in the vicinity of the property, which had been requested by the World Heritage Centre.

On 2-3 June 2021, an online Masterclass on Sustainable Development and World Heritage Conservation in Bangladesh was organized in the framework of a UNESCO/Netherlands Funds-in-Trust (NFiT) project by the World Heritage Centre and the UNESCO Office in Dhaka, in close cooperation with the State Party and the Advisory Bodies.

Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2021

Substantial efforts made by the State Party to enhance protection of the property’s OUV through the implementation of various measures, including strengthened patrolling and key species conservation, steps taken to increase freshwater flows into the property and to establish a long-term ecological monitoring system in view of building climate resilience, should be welcomed. The positive cooperation between the State Party, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to strengthen proactive planning for better management of the property in the framework of the NFiT project is also appreciated.

However, the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission concluded that, while the property’s OUV, including its hydrological and ecological processes and its biodiversity, remains present, the property continues to be threatened by possible impacts from large-scale industrial development. These potential impacts could cumulatively result in a high risk for the property’s OUV to deteriorate if no further measures are taken based on a comprehensive assessment of existing and possible future negative factors and pressures.

The mission further concluded that it will be essential to ensure that the SEA provides an adequate planning instrument, whose implementation would ensure that no large-scale industrial development would be permitted in the vicinity of the property, and that no further intensification of shipping and dredging would occur if either is considered to have potential negative impacts on the OUV of the property. It noted that, in case such negative impacts cannot be prevented, the property will be facing potential danger, in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. Therefore, the mission recommended that the Committee review the progress achieved in the development of the SEA at the next session with a view to considering, in the case of absence of substantial progress and if ascertained or potential danger to the OUV is confirmed, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Transboundary cooperation between the States Parties of Bangladesh and India in the framework of the JWG is also critical and should remain active. The Committee may request the States Parties to undertake a coordinated effort, notably to strengthen integration of the consideration of the hydrology of the property and that of the Sundarbans National Park in India in bilateral cooperation, as recommended by the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission.

It is noted that the State Party has not given any permission to large-scale industrial developments adjacent to the property since Decision 41 COM 7B.25 from 2017, and that the 20 Red Category enterprises currently operating within the ECA are under rigorous compliance monitoring. It is also noted that dredging of the Pashur River is operating in accordance with the EMPs, as per Decision 43 COM 7B.3. Finalization of the NOSCOP, which includes the provision of funding and human resources for the implementation of the plan to prevent and mitigate negative impacts from shipping operations, is welcomed. An effective localized contingency plan covering the property should be further developed to ensure immediate and coordinated actions to mitigate impacts in case of emergency, as recommended by the 2019 mission.

The efforts made by the State Party to advance the SEA for the South-West of Bangladesh are welcomed. It is noted that the SEA is scheduled for completion in August 2021 due to a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party, as a matter of the utmost priority, to fulfil all relevant recommendations of the 2019 mission when finalizing the SEA, in order to ensure that the SEA’s findings form the basis for future decision making on development , that may impact the OUV of the property, and to submit the final report, including the strategic environmental management plan, to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN and for subsequent examination by the Committee at its 45th session.

The ongoing expansion and dredging operations near the Mongla Port, noted by the 2019 mission, are of utmost concern. Bearing in mind that further development upstream of the property would require additional maintenance dredging and is likely to increase traffic on the Pashur River, the State Party should be urged to ensure that no further decision is made for any new large-scale industrial and/or infrastructural developments, which may influence the OUV of the property, including further development of the Mongla Port and any other development that might further increase traffic on the Pashur River, until the SEA for the South-West region of Bangladesh is completed, as recommended by the 2019 mission.

While no update was provided in the State Party’s report on the development of the Taltoli and the Kolapara power plants, located outside the South-West region, it is also a source of great concern that the three power plant projects in Rampal, Taltoli and Kolapara continue to advance, while their construction and operations could potentially impact the property’s OUV. The 2019 mission noted substantial progress in addressing concerns expressed by the 2016 Reactive Monitoring mission over the construction and operation of the Rampal power plant, e.g. through increased transparency in the implementation of mitigation and contingency measures during all phases of the project, and regular monitoring in accordance with the EMP. However, the mission also reaffirmed that, in the absence of a comprehensive assessment of cumulative impacts from the ongoing and proposed large-scale industrial developments, significant concerns remain regarding their possible negative impacts on the property, and therefore the continuation of these developments before the on-going SEA is completed represents a potential danger to the property’s OUV.

While appreciating the State Party’s efforts to enhance the protection of the property’s OUV and make progress with the SEA, a continuation of the current developments, including power plants, the expansion and dredging operations near the Mongla Port prior to the completion of the SEA that would guide decisions so they may be compatible with the protection of the OUV of the property, would constitute a significant threat to the property. Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee review, at its 45th session, whether the property meets the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2021
44 COM 7B.91
The Sundarbans (Bangladesh) (N 798)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decisions 41 COM 7B.25 and 43 COM 7B.3, adopted at its 41st (Krakow, 2017) and 43rd (Baku, 2019) sessions respectively,
  3. Notes with satisfaction the conclusion of the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission that the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including its hydrological and ecological processes and its biodiversity, remains present;
  4. Notes that possible impacts from large-scale industrial developments may result in a high risk for the property’s OUV if no further measures are taken based on a comprehensive assessment of existing and possible future negative factors and pressures;
  5. Considers that the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the South-West region of Bangladesh should provide an adequate planning instrument to ensure that all future large-scale industrial development in the vicinity of the property will not adversely impact the OUV;
  6. Welcomes the substantial efforts to enhance the protection of the property’s OUV through the implementation of various conservation measures, including a new initiative to establish a long-term ecological monitoring system with a view to building climate resilience;
  7. Appreciates the close cooperation between the State Party, UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies in strengthening proactive planning for the management of the property in the framework of the UNESCO/Netherlands Funds-in-Trust, and encourages the State Party to continue active dialogue and engagement with UNESCO, the Advisory Bodies and other relevant stakeholders to complement its efforts to strengthen management of the property;
  8. Also welcomes the State Party’s progress in implementing action points agreed at the first meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint Working Group in 2016, and requests the States Parties of Bangladesh and India to undertake a coordinated effort, notably to strengthen integration of the consideration of the hydrology of the property and that of the Sundarbans National Park in India in bilateral cooperation;
  9. Also notes with satisfaction that the State Party has not given environmental clearance or permission for any large-scale industrial development adjacent to the property since the adoption of Decision 41 COM 7B.25;
  10. Further notes with satisfaction that 20 large-scale (Red Category) enterprises within the Sundarbans Ecologically Critical Area are under rigorous compliance monitoring and that approved dredging activities on the Pashur River are operating in accordance with the Environmental Management Plans, further welcomes the finalization of the National Oil and Chemical Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCOP), which includes the provision of funding and human resources for its implementation in order to prevent and mitigate negative impacts from shipping operations, and also requests the State Party to further develop an effective localized contingency plan covering the property to ensure immediate and coordinated actions to mitigate impacts in case of emergency;
  11. Noting that the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission report was made available only on 16 June 2021, further requests the State Party to fully implement all the recommendations made by the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission and previous Committee decisions;
  12. Welcomes furthermore the efforts made by the State Party to advance the SEA for the South-West region, now scheduled for completion in August 2021, urges the State Party to ensure that the findings of the SEA form the basis for future decision making on development that may impact the OUV of the property, and requests moreover the State Party to submit the final SEA, including the strategic environmental management plan, to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN and subsequent examination by the Committee at its 45th session;
  13. Also notes the ongoing expansion and dredging operations near Mongla Port would require additional maintenance dredging and are likely to increase traffic on the Pashur River, and also urges the State Party to ensure that no further decision is made for any new large-scale industrial and/or infrastructural development, which may influence the OUV of the property, until the SEA for the South-West region of Bangladesh is completed;
  14. Expresses satisfaction on the progress made by the State Party in addressing issues raised by the 2016 Reactive Monitoring mission over the construction of the Rampal power plant, but notes with concern that the development of  the large scale industrial projects could potentially impact the property’s OUV and should not proceed before the completion of  the SEA in line with Paragraph 118bis of the Operational Guidelines;
  15. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session.
Draft Decision: 44 COM 7B.91

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decisions 41 COM 7B.25 and 43 COM 7B.3, adopted at its 41st (Krakow, 2017) and 43rd (Baku, 2019) sessions respectively,
  3. Notes the conclusion of the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission that, while the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including its hydrological and ecological processes and its biodiversity, remains present, the property continues to be threatened by possible impacts from large-scale industrial developments, which could cumulatively result in a high risk for the property’s OUV to deteriorate if no further measures are taken based on a comprehensive assessment of existing and possible future negative factors and pressures;
  4. Considers that the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the South-West region of Bangladesh should provide an adequate planning instrument, the implementation of which would ensure that no large-scale industrial development would be permitted in the vicinity of the property, and that no further intensification of shipping and dredging would occur if either were considered to have potential negative impacts on the property’s OUV; and also considers that, in case such negative impacts cannot be prevented, the property would be facing potential danger in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines;
  5. Welcomes the substantial efforts to enhance the protection of the property’s OUV through the implementation of various conservation measures, including a new initiative to establish a long-term ecological monitoring system with a view to building climate resilience;
  6. Appreciates the close cooperation between the State Party, UNESCO and the Advisory Bodies in strengthening proactive planning for the management of the property in the framework of the UNESCO/Netherlands Funds-in-Trust, and encourages the State Party to continue active dialogue and engagement with UNESCO, the Advisory Bodies and other relevant stakeholders to complement its efforts to strengthen management of the property;
  7. Also welcomes the State Party’s progress in implementing action points agreed at the first meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint Working Group in 2016, and requests the States Parties of Bangladesh and India to undertake a coordinated effort, notably to strengthen integration of the consideration of the hydrology of the property and that of the Sundarbans National Park in India in bilateral cooperation;
  8. Noting that 20 large-scale (Red Category) enterprises within the Sundarbans Ecologically Critical Area are under rigorous compliance monitoring and that approved dredging activities on the Pashur River are operating in accordance with the Environmental Management Plans, further welcomes the finalization of the National Oil and Chemical Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCOP), which includes the provision of funding and human resources for its implementation in order to prevent and mitigate negative impacts from shipping operations, and also requests the State Party to further develop an effective localized contingency plan covering the property to ensure immediate and coordinated actions to mitigate impacts in case of emergency;
  9. Welcomes furthermore the efforts made by the State Party to advance the SEA for the South-West region, now scheduled for completion in August 2021, urges the State Party, as a matter of the utmost priority, to fulfil all relevant recommendations of the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission when finalizing the SEA in order to ensure that the findings of the SEA form the basis for future decision making on development that may impact the OUV of the property, and further requests the State Party to submit the final SEA, including the strategic environmental management plan, to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN and subsequent examination by the Committee at its 45th session;
  10. Notes with the utmost concern the ongoing expansion and dredging operations near Mongla Port, which would require additional maintenance dredging and are likely to increase traffic on the Pashur River, and also urges the State Party to ensure that no further decision is made for any new large-scale industrial and/or infrastructural development, which may influence the OUV of the property, including further development of Mongla Port or any other development that might further increase traffic on the Pashur River, until the SEA for the South-West region of Bangladesh is completed;
  11. Takes note of the progress made by the State Party in addressing issues raised by the 2016 Reactive Monitoring mission over the construction of the Rampal power plant, but expresses its utmost concern that the development of three power plant projects in Rampal, Taltoli and Kolapara, which could potentially impact the property’s OUV in the absence of the SEA and a comprehensive assessment of their cumulative impacts, continues to advance;
  12. Requests furthermore the State Party to make efforts to fully implement all the other recommendations made by the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission and previous Committee decisions;
  13. Requests moreover the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, including how the findings of the SEA are ensuring decision making on development in the vicinity of the property that will fully protect its OUV, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session in 2022, with a view to considering, if ascertained or potential danger to the OUV of the property is confirmed, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Report year: 2021
Bangladesh
Date of Inscription: 1997
Category: Natural
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Documents examined by the Committee
SOC Report by the State Party
Report (2020) .pdf
Initialy proposed for examination in 2020
arrow_circle_right 44COM (2021)
Exports

* : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.


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