A UN expert team has arrived in Bangladesh to help clean up the Sundarbans, more than a week after it was hit by a huge oil spill from a capsized boat endangering the world’s largest mangrove forest.
According to a UN statement, it has sent the Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team “in response to a request from the Government of Bangladesh” to support the cleanup efforts of the oil spill in the Sundarbans.
The development came as experts slammed authorities for failing to organise a proper clean-up effort of the oil spill, which is feared to have spread over 350 square kilometres area of the Sundarbans, criss-crossed by a wide networks of rivers and canals.
Bangladesh had initially preferred not to seek any overseas help to remove the oil.
A manual cleanup campaign was launched on the fourth day of the accident as authorities could not reach a decision on using chemicals to neutralise the oil.
Experts had warned that such a move could endanger more the delicate ecosystem of the mangrove forest.
The forest department engaged over 200 people in nearly 100 boats to collect the furnace oil spilled from the tanker using the traditional equipment. They urged people at the neighbourhood to join the campaign to sop up the floating oil as the state-run Padma Oil said they would buy the oil collected from the Sundarbans river and canals.
Green activists, however, criticised the government decision to use local people in removing the spilled oil without considering their health hazards.
Meanwhile, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which had inscribed the Sundarbans on its World Heritage List in 1997, expressed fears that “there is likely damage to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, which must be evaluated”.
“The UNESCO World Heritage Centre is seriously concerned about the impact of the oil spill on the World Heritage area, and is working with national authorities to ascertain the status of the situation and the best measures to be taken,” it said.
On December 9, a tanker carrying 350,000 litres of furnace oil sank in the Sundarbans Shela River after being hit by an empty cargo vessel.
It was salvaged 55 hours later when officials found four out of its six chambers damaged to cause the seepage.
Residents at the neighbourhood of the Sundarbans today found the body of missing captain of an oil tanker five days after it sank while seven other crew of the vessel could safely swam ashore as it capsized.
The rivers and canals in and around the Sundarbans are particularly known as the home of more than 6 rare kinds of dolphin called irabati dolphin.
The Sundarbans, covering 26,000 square kilometres in India and Bangladesh, is the abode 32 kinds of wild mammal, 35 kinds of reptile and 8 kinds of amphibian and over 300 kinds of bird apart from verity of plants and mangrove vegetations.