UN agrees to help govt contain oil spread

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The United Nations has acquiesced to the government’s request of sending help for containing the spread of oil in the Sundarbans. A team of the UN environmental agency UNEP and humanitarian affairs coordination agency OCHA will arrive in Dhaka shortly to this end.

Sources said the Economic Relations Division (ERD) sent a letter to the UN Bangladesh office on Monday seeking help. Previously, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had offered to help the environment and forests ministry. But according to norms, international assistance in such cases must be sought through ERD. ERD sent this letter in keeping with a request from the environment and forests ministry.

Khandakar Rakibur Rahman, additional secretary to the forests ministry and coordinator of the inter-ministerial committee formed for the Sundarbans oil spill, confirmed that the appeal had been made to the UN. “We have taken national efforts to contain the spread of oil in the Sundarbans. The government has formed a team of researchers from different departments of the government to determine the losses,” he told Prothom Alo.

A senior official of the UN Dhaka office has said that the environmental units of UNEP and OCHA have been informed of the government’s request for help regarding the Sundarbans. This special unit for environmental disaster has agreed to provide its assistance.

The environmental unit of UNEP and OCHA are planning to form a team of experts from the environmental emergency unit. This team will determine the damages done to the Sundarbans by this oil spill and what is to be done. Initially they will examine how to reduce the environmental damages and control the spread of oil, and submit recommendations to the government in this regard.

The forest department has said that it is being possible to lift the oil from the Sundarbans waters, but not to remove the oil that has seeped into the forest and layered in the trees. From yesterday morning forest department workers have been trying to wash off the water from the trees with the help of hosepipes, but in vain. The forest department also lacks adequate technical capacity and logistics to remove the oil from the canals and rivulets leading into the forest.

The UNDP Dhaka office has already offered to help the forest department in its current efforts. It has said it will help in increasing boats for the removal of oil and provide gloves and other equipment for the workers involved in removing the oil.

On 9 December, oil tanker OT Southern-7 was hit by another vessel in the river Shyla of the Chandpai range in the Sundarbans, spilling 35 million litres of furnace oil. This has spread to 350 sq km of the forest.

Source: Prothom Alo