Opposition grows over planned Bangladesh coal mine

Posted: 10 March 2008

Over 60 international NGOs have called on the Asian Development Bank not to support plans to build an open cast coal mine in Phulbari, North West Bangladesh. Campaigners claim it will leave people poorer, and threaten food and water security. The Bank has been considering a US$200m loan to the UK company, Global Coal Managment (GCM), to help finance the project.

The plan has already led to civil unrest. Zakir Kibria, an activist from Bangladesh said: "The poorest people of Bangladesh will suffer at the hands of a UK corporation who want to mine our land for profit. We do not want this mine."

The World Development Movement which has called on GCM to abandon its plan, said that more than 40,000 people, including the local indigenous community, will be displaced in a country increasingly short of land. GCM claim they will compensate the legal holders of the land, but WDM says the majority of people living in the region are landless farmers, who will receive minimal compensation and for only two years.

Campaigners fear that food and water security will be compromised by the mine, due to an increase in the levels of toxins, including arsenic, in the water supply, which could also affect agricultural land. The mine will also reduce access to water in the area which is likely to affect a further 100,000 people.

Further unrest

Three people were killed during protests in August 2006, when over 20,000 people demonstrated against the mine. Campaigners are concerned that if GCM does not pull out of Bangladesh there will be further unrest.

Murray Benham, head of campaigns at the World Development Movement said: "We are putting pressure on GCM to withdraw from this shameful project immediately. A great deal of damage will be done to people's lives and the environment if the mine goes ahead. GCM and its shareholders must realise that people should come before profits."

Among those opposing the mine are 60 international NGOs including Oxfam Australia, ActionAid Pakistan, Greenpeace India and 42 community leaders from the Phulbari area. GCM is due to make its decision in June.

Campaigners say that financing the mine contradicts the ADB's own energy policy, which states that coal mines should only be supported if the coal is for use in the local area, but most of the coal will be exported from Bangladesh.

Shareholders of GCM include RAB Capital, a London based hedge fund, UBS AG, a multinational bank based in Switzerland, Barclays PLC and Credit Suisse. GCM operates under the name Asia Energy in Bangladesh.