“I want grid power,” say locals, despite concerns that Rampal’s mega-plant may threaten the world heritage listed Sundarbans mangrove forests

“This power plant gives me the opportunity to earn more money,” says Mohor Ali Sheikh, who transports workers to the Rampal coal power plant site (Pic: Megan Darby)

At the site of one of the world’s most controversial coal projects, a fence topped with barbed wire surrounds a few pre-fabricated huts.

Rice paddies have been filled in with silt to create a base for Rampal power station, 14km from the Bangladeshi Sundarbans, a vibrant mangrove forest and world heritage site. Construction has yet to start.

The government of Bangladesh is claiming victory over green activists after Unesco last week conditionally dropped its opposition to the 1,320MW plant.

In 2016, Unesco urged the authorities to relocate the power station, saying it threatened the unique ecosystem. At a meeting in Krakow, Poland on Thursday, its World Heritage Committee softened that stance, giving an 18-month deadline to address certain environmental concerns.

“It is because of our goodwill and capacity, Unesco has lifted its objection on the construction of mega power plant,” said Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, energy advisor to the prime minister, as reported by the national Daily Star newspaper. Finland and Turkey were among 12 nations to voice their support for the plant, he said.

Report: UN tells Bangladesh to halt mangrove-threatening coal plant

Ultra-supercritical technology will be used to mitigate the environmental impact of the plant, he added. “The Sundarbans saves us from natural disasters; we will do nothing that harms her.”

Mohor Ali Sheikh is loitering with his flatbed moto-rickshaw outside the site entrance when Climate Home visits. He gets 50 taka ($0.62) to transport workers here from the main road.

“I have no idea what problems there will be if a coal-laden ship sinks,” he says, asked about one of the risks associated with the project. “But I know that this power plant gives me the opportunity to earn more money.”

In Foylabazar, the nearest settlement, two shrimp farmers taking breakfast express worries about the potential impact of fly ash on their seafood harvest. Fly ash is a fine dust that issues from power station chimneys. It contains heavy metals that can contaminate water sources if not filtered out.

Komolesh Halder, flipping roti on a hotplate, is ambivalent. He has heard the environmental concerns about the plant, but says more than 200 locals have got jobs there: “They are happy.”

The Sundarbans may be only 14km away, but there is no road connection to Foylabazar. It takes an hour by boat,…