"First World countries are the leaders in carbon emissions, and it is the Third World who faces the consequences", Bangladeshi Professor Anu Muhammad told a crowd of 50 at public forum on May 14. "A one-metre rise in sea level would displace 40 million people and would submerge 30% of our country."
The "Voices from Bangladesh" forum was part of a tour organised by AID/WATCH and supported by Oxfam and Friends of the Earth.
Muhammad highlighted that citizens of First World countries believe that some of their taxes will be used to aid and develop Third World countries, but instead such taxes are funding "projects of mass destruction". A key example is the proposed open-pit coalmine in the Phulbari region.
The Phulbari mine would be owned by the Asian Energy Corporation, which received the license from Australian-based mining giant BHP. The First World-based corporation would reap 94% of the profit, leaving Bangladeshi society with just 6% royalties. According to Muhammad, between 75% and 80% of the coal would be exported. To help fund this project, Asian Energy requested US$300 million from the Australian government.
While mining has environmental implications no matter where mines are located, Muhammad explained that Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable due to its high population density (1039 people per square kilometre, compared to Australia which has less than 10).
Another factor is the question of food security. "Until now, the Bangladeshis have been able to produce 90% of our food from the land, but this will be threatened with even the slightest rise in sea level", Muhammad noted. "While the USA and Australia produce well over 2000 kilograms of CO2 per person per year, currently each Bangladeshi contributes under 200. The predicted emissions of the Phulbari coalmine will triple Bangladeshi emissions, to over 500 kilograms per person."
As concerns about the proposed mine grew, the Bangladeshi government and media tried to portray the opposition as being stirred up by "outside sources" and "leftists". However, on August 26, 2006, more than 100,000 men, women and children of the region protested peacefully against the mine and in defence of their homeland. The military attacked the protest, killing three teenagers; three other people disappeared and many more were injured.
After the brutal repression of the protest, women stepped forward to lead the campaign, and the Phulbari mine was shelved — a victory for people's resistance. The movement that has developed has the following demands: 100% Bangladeshi ownership of resources; people-centred not corporate-focused development; no to international financial institutions; protect food and energy and sustainability; and protection of lives and the environment.
"Since capitalism is globalised, we need globalised resistance", Muhammad concluded, urging the building of global solidarity to challenge corporate rule and destruction of our environment.
AID/WATCH is encouraging people to voice their protest by writing to Treasurer Wayne Swan, who sits on the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank, and the parliamentary secretary for international development assistance, Bob McMullan.
Solidarity actions are being considered around the commemoration of the August 26 protest. For more information see http://www.aidwatch.org.au.