This is our heritage, we need to protect it.
The distance between Kenya and Bangladesh is more than six thousand kilometers but both these countries have much in common. From their abundant natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and warm-hearted people, this would have been good enough reason for Tonny and I to become friends.
We got to know each other while trying to protect the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of our countries because the Kenyan and Bangladeshi governments- despite the climate emergency we are in, and regardless of the massive biodiversity collapse that is happening- want to build two new coal-fired power stations in our countries. Both are in close proximity to invaluable world heritage sites.
Lamu town is one of the first Swahili settlements in the world, a unique site of centuries of interactions between Bantu, Arab, Indian, Persian and European cultures and communities. It is believed it was established in the 1370 and was part of the ancient Arab trading route. Lamu embodies that history and has become an ecosystem sustaining the local communities’ livelihoods through family fishing, small-scale farming and tourism. And like all ancient and rare treasures, it is fragile and requires the highest care.
Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, was inscribed in the list in 1997 for being an example of ongoing ecological process and having exceptional biodiversity. The forest is home to two magnificent species- The Bengal tigers and Gangetic dolphins. Further, it is a carbon sink and not only home to more than 250 species, but also provides livelihood for the local people. Honey and candle from the beehives; leaves from Sundar and Hogla plants; fish from the rivers are what all local people depend on for their livelihood.
The Sundarbans has seen some of the world’s most violent hurricanes, thousands of years of changing riverbeds, rise and fall of civilizations. Lamu have survived centuries of people’s movements, political rivalries, sometimes even wars. Throughout that time our people built patient and respectful relationships with these delicate sites.
Coal threatens to destroy these cultural and natural heritage sites
In Rampal, 14 kilometers away from the Sundarbans, a coal-fired power station is being built. Similarly, in Lamu, there are plans to build Kenya’s first ever coal power plant. Both projects are driven by foreign investment and technical support approved by our respective governments. Dozens of experts and scientists produced research and expertise, and the results converge. Both would dramatically contribute to the worsening climate crisis –Rampal coal plant alone is expected to 7.9 million tonnes of Co2 annually. They would also trigger a process of destruction, particularly through air and water pollution that will cause diseases among humans and extinctions for the fauna as well as the flora. The temperature of the river in Sundarbans will increase almost by a degree when the debris from the coal-plant hits it. This pollution will poison and kill the fish in the water that the local people depend on. The dredging of the existing ports that aim at bringing the coal closer to the plant will irreversibly ruin the ecological balance of both regions.
Since the plants have been proposed, in 2011 in Bangladesh and in 2014 in Kenya- local people have come together to resist. In Bangladesh, we saw thousands of people from different regions, class and age joining in a historic 400 km long march to stop the Rampal power plant. On 26th June 2019, as a result of inspiring and creative campaigning from the climate movement, the Kenyan National Environment Tribunal (NET) cancelled the licence previously granted to Amu Power, the developer of the controversial Lamu Coal Plant. It is a momentous ruling and a major step toward a fossil free Kenya, but local communities and campaigners alike fear that the developers, Amu Power, will simply resubmit new Environmental Social Impact Assessment study.
As a continuation of the movement against fossil fuel power, we are going to the 43rd UNESCO World Heritage Committee Meeting because we want to draw the world’s attention to the critical need to stop coal. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to ensure that we stay below 1.5 degrees in order to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
Save Lamu and National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans will join the meeting to make people’s voices heard. Today, together we ask you to follow our journey and support our cause- because we are working to protect the future for all of us.
Our world is on fire and it is future generations that will have to mop up the mess that has been created. There is an opportunity for UNESCO to protect our cultural and natural heritage that is being threatened with destruction by damaging fossil fuel developments. We are asking them to take it.
Tonny Nowshin: Tonny was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh to a political family. Her mother is known for her role participating in the guerrilla fight during the Bangladesh liberation war disguised as a boy. Tonny was an activist for social issues from her middle school to early University years. After finishing graduation in Economics from the University of Dhaka, Tonny worked for five years with two leading development organizations in Bangladesh – BRAC, and ActionAid. She came to Berlin, Germany for her second Masters. Tonny stepped up, along with many other expats, to make Save the Sundarbans movement global. She joined 350.org as a Campaign Organizer in June 2019.
Rukiya Khamis Ahmed
My name is Rukiya Khamis Ahmed, I am a 25 year old female from a small island town in the coastal part of Kenya, called Mombasa approximately 240 km from Lamu. I started campaigning on matters of climate crisis and fossil fuel industry’s destruction on land, people and culture, when the problem came too close to home.
Where I come from, water scarcity is an issue way too familiar, during my work on water resource management, I came across the proposed Lamu Coal plant. I felt it was the biggest mistake in the Kenyan government could make and there was no way I was going to stand by and watch. My journey supporting the deCOALonize Kenya campaign has led me to Baku. Here I will stand in solidarity with the Lamu community members to lobby and get buy-in from the World Heritage Committee to place Lamu on the endangered World Heritage Site list and ensure that this beautiful piece of paradise, Lamu, is preserved, protected and respected. Lamu being placed on the endangered World Heritage Site list will not only boost the campaign a great deal but will also serve as an inspiration to other communities going through a similar if not greater threat.