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Hundreds of protesters have embarked on a march from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka to the world’s largest mangrove forest region in the south, to demonstrate against government plans to build huge coal power plants near the forests.
Activists taking part in the 400km “march”, taking off on a bus convoy on Thursday, fear that pollution from the two proposed coal plants will lead to the destruction of the heavily biodiverse Sundarbans that is both a UNESCO World Heritage site and Samarco-protected wetland.
The 10,000 sq km forest region, most of which is situated in Bangladesh with a small part in neighbouring India, is home to numerous endangered species, including the Royal Bengal tigers, the estuarine crocodile, and the South Asian river dolphin.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, boarding a bus with activists in Dhaka, said that protesters are trying to spread awareness of the environmental threat and persuade the government to stop the construction of the plants.
“Protesters want to pick up more demonstrators in towns and cities across the country,” he said.
Dhaka says a 1,320-megawatt plant built by the Indian and Bangladeshi governments and a 545-megawatt plant by the private company Orion are necessary to provide power to around a third of the population who lack electricity.
It says that the country also needs more power urgently because of its rapid industrialisation.
The government has denounced the protests and claimed that the plants will not have any negative environmental impact on the forests.
Anwar Hossain Manju, the minister for environment and forests in Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera that the government has done all the required environmental impact assessments and will maintain the highest environmental standard possible.
He said the type of coal that will be used is of the highest quality with low sulphur content.
However, Manju said he shared the concern of the environmentalist and the protesters.
“It’s a Catch-22 situation. On one hand we are badly in need of energy for growth and development and at the same time we have to be concerned about the impact it may have on the environment.”