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Bangabandhu Airport, Arial Beel wetlands, Bangladesh


Description:

In August 2010 the government of Bangladesh endorsed construction of a major new international airport, called Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport, stating that around 2,428 hectares of land would be required.[1] The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) shortlisted three sites for the airport: Arial Beel in Munshiganj, Trishal in Mymensingh, and Bhuapur in Tangail. [2] Initially, Trishal emerged as the favoured site, but because this would entail displacement of a large number of people, the government changed its mind. In the absence of a feasibility study or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) land in the Arial Beel was earmarked for the airport. To the south of the capital city of Dhaka, Arial Beel is the third largest wetland in Bangladesh covering an area of 136 square kilometres. The land requirement for the project had more than quadrupled, to 10,117 hectares, as the plan now included a ‘satellite city’.

Announcement of the Arial Beel site immediately triggered heated debate and stiff resistance to the threat of eradicating the wetlands which would impact on the farming and fishing livelihoods of thousands of local people. The wetlands contain many waterbodies which irrigate fields year-round, supporting high yields of rice and many types of vegetables. Environmentalists raised the risk to biodiversity including destruction of the natural breeding ground for many varieties of small fish.

There were concerns that the wetland site was unsuitable for an airport and that the government appeared to be disregarding its own National Water Policy. The leading opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), lent support to the anti-airport campaign.[1] Bloggers opposing the takeover of Arial Beel for the proposed airport questioned the necessity of a new airport, saying that existing airports, including Shahajalal Airport, the largest in Bangladesh, were not operating a full capacity and could be upgraded to handle future traffic increases.[3] Protests that had begun upon announcement of the plan to construct an airport Arial Beel escalated. On 26th January 2011 police attempted to prevent supporters of the anti-airport campaign, Arial Beel Rakkha Committee (Arial Beel Protection Committee), from joining a protest rally in Muktangan. A clash between police and demonstrators ensued which resulted in at least 30 people suffering injuries and 20 vehicles and 30 shops were vandalised. Cases were filed against 4,026 people over the clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters, and in response the Arial Beel Rakkha Committee announced that another protest would be held and that there would be a blockade on the Dhaka-Mawa highway.[4] Bangladesh human rights organization Odhikar reported that the procession organized by Arial Beel Rakkha Committee was disrupted by police who took away their banners and imposed a blockage. Protesters then attempted to make a human chain but police chased them away. Arial Beel Rakkha Committee said their protest was peaceful and three protesters received bullet injuries.[5]

The subsequent protest and road blockade took place on 31st January 2011. A policeman was killed and approximately 100 people, police and protesters and observers, were injured in clashes between police and protesters. By 11am on the day of the blockade more than 30,000 people had gathered, many of them carrying bamboo and wooden sticks. Some of the demonstrators blocked the road with logs, and tyres and firewood which they set fire to, others scattered over a wider area. A group of people torched a police outpost. Two journalists were beaten and one of their motorcycles was set alight. Police fired rubber bullets and hurled teargas canisters to disperse the protesters. A photographer from Priyo News reported that a photographer for the Naya Diganta newspaper was shot in his leg. It was alleged that a number of police ransacked 50 houses and beat up the inhabitants in reprisal for the killing of their colleague. The Arial Beel Rakkha Committee issued a press release condemning the attacks on police and journalists.[4] Photographs published in the Daily Star showed demonstrators setting fire to a journalist’s motorcycle, blocking the highway with logs, people throwing stones at police and an injured police officer.[6] The policeman who was killed was sub-inspector Matior Rahman, 53 years old. He was declared dead by doctors when he was rushed to Mitford Hospital with critical injuries.[4]

On 2nd February 2011 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said no airport would be built in Arial Beel against the will of the people of the area. Locals celebrated, making victory signs. But tensions remained high in communities participating in the protests. The day after the no airport announcement male members of almost all the families, who had fled their homes to avoid arrest, had yet to return. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina remained insistent on the necessity of a new international airport, stating that in regard to government plans to develop beach tourism in Cox’s Bazaar, Chittagong and Kuakata it would be needed to bring in international tourists. She announced that the site would be shifted to another location following a feasibility study, south of the Padma River if necessary.[7]

Journalist Shykh Seraj reported on a visit to Arial Beel in 2013, where he found wetlands that could have been lost to the airport supporting plentiful fish of many species and snails that were sent away on trawlers to be used as food for shrimp farms. Rice harvests were good and there was bountiful vegetable production including pumpkins, bottle gourds. He talked with farmers who had defended their land and livelihoods from the airport project and were determined to continue to do so, becoming distressed when recalling the threat that the airport had posed and their struggle against it.[8]

The government revived the Bangabandhu Airport project in 2014.[9] After consideration of another eight possible sites, a potential new location, Char Janajat, was under consideration, for an airport with three 4.4 kilometre runways. The proposed site was considerably smaller than the Arial Beel plan, at 3,237 hectares. In 2016-17 Japanese firm Nippon Koei Ltd conducted a feasibility study which selected Char Janajat and two other locations as potential sites. But in December 2017 concerns were expressed by local politicians. The government was having great difficulties proceeding with the Char Janajat site because of protests by local residents. There was even opposition from within the Awami League, Bangladesh’s governing party, with a number of representatives expressing resentment during a discussion at the Prime Minister’s Office on 29th October 2017, saying that an airport in this location would require a massive relocation of residents. Char Janajat representatives said they were afraid of a repetition of the Arial Beel incident.

Another feasibility study was conducted and another study called for. The Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry said the consultancy firm commissioned to provide a detailed report on the number of people to be relocated and the costs of resettlement and land acquisition was anticipated to complete the report soon.[2] In January 2018 uncertainty was hanging over the Bangabandhu Airport project. Along with the problems of displacement of people for the airport the proposed Char Janajat site is an island within the Padma and Arialkha river basin areas, leading to doubts over the feasibility of constructing such a facility on river island soil.[10]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Bangabandhu Airport, Arial Beel wetlands, Bangladesh
Country:Bangladesh
State or province:Dhaka Division
Location of conflict:Munshiganj District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Urban development conflicts
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Land
Water
wetland

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Plans for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport (Bangabandhu Airport), named after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, commonly known as Bangabandhu, the country's former president, were endorsed by the Bangladesh government in 2010.[1] In 2011 the estimated project cost was Tk 50,000 Crores USD5.96 billion. Land in Arial Beel wetlands was earmarked but an airport in this location was cancelled in 2011 following major protests. In August 2014 the government revived the Bangabandhu Airport project and began considering alternative possible sites.[9]

Japanese firm Nippon Koei Ltd was appointed by the government to conduct a feasibility study which, in 2017, selected Char Janajat and two other locations as potential sites.[10] According to aviation consultancy Centre for Aviation (CAPA) Bangabandhu Airport will feature three 4,420 metre runways on a site spanning 3,237 hectares. Bangabandhu Airport could be Bangladesh’s main hub airport and the project is expected to be complete by 2025 at an estimated cost of USD6.4 billion.[11]

Project area: 10,117
Level of Investment:5,960,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:several thousand people
Start of the conflict:08/2010
End of the conflict:04/02/2011
Company names or state enterprises:Nippon Koei from Japan - After cancellation Nippon Koei conducted a feasibility study selecting alternative sites.[2}
Relevant government actors:Government of Bangladesh
Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB)
Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Arial Beel Rakkha Committee

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsHealth problems caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
A policeman was killed and about 100 people injured when a number of people acted violently at an anti-airport protest on 31st January 2011. [4]
The proposal for a new airport, called Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport, in Arial Beel was cancelled due to protests, but new sites for the airport are under consideration.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Farmers and fisherfolk depending upon the Arial Beel wetlands organized a campaign which was successful in achieving cancellation of the proposed airport and 'satellite city'. Unfortunately violence at a major protest resulted in a policemen being killed, and about 100 people, police, protestors and observers, suffering injuries. The government has since revived the project and potential sites that have been identified would all involve displacement of people. Consideration of a site in Char Janajat triggered protests and fears of a repeat of the conflict over the proposed location of the new airport in Arial Beel.

Sources & Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] Can government start work on Bangabandhu airport before the election?, Dhaka Tribune, 10 December 2017
http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/development/2017/12/10/awami-start-bangabandhu-airport-election/

[4] Mayhem in Munshiganj, Privo News, 2 February 2011 (accessed 3 April 2015)
http://news.priyo.com/law-and-order/2011/feb/01/18616/mayhem-munshiganj

[5] Human Rights Report 2011: Odhikar Report on Bangladesh, Odhikar, 7 January 2012
http://odhikar.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Human_Rights_Report_2011.pdf

[6] Violent no to new airport, The Daily Star, 1 February 2011
https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-172362

[7] No airport against people's will, The Daily Star, 3 February 2011
https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-172668

[8] Shykh Seraj, Near soil, Near people, 14 May 2013
http://shykhseraj.tumblr.com/post/50416886346/landscapes-of-prospect-and-fright

[9] Govt revives Bangabandhu Int’l Airport Project, NEWAGE, 21 August 2014
http://www.newagebd.net/42183/govt-revives-bangabandhu-intl-airport-project/

[10] Uncertainty hangs over fate of proposed Bangabandhu airport, Dhaka Tribune, 12 January 2018
http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2018/01/11/uncertainty-hangs-fate-proposed-bangabandhu-airport/

[11] Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport, Centre for Aviation (CAPA)
https://centreforaviation.com/data/profiles/newairports/bangabandhu-sheikh-mujib-international-airport

[1] Aparna Ray, Bangladesh: Proposed International Airport Stumbles Over Environment Controversy, Global Voices, 13 February 2011
https://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/02/13/bangladesh-proposed-international-airport-stumbles-over-environment-controversy/

[3] Aparna Ray, Bangladesh: Widespread Protests Force Government To Back Down On Airport Project, Global Voices, 15 February 2011
https://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/02/15/bangladesh-widespread-protests-force-government-to-back-down-on-airport-project/

Other documents

Protest against airport at Arial Beel Demonstration against the airport project. Source: move4world.com
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Arial_Beel_2.jpg

Protest and highway blockade About 30,000 people protested against the airport, a policeman was killed and 100 others injured. Source: thedailystar.net
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Arial_Beel_4.jpg

Protest against airport at Arial Beel Villagers protest on 26th January 2011. Source: Moinul Islam
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Arial_Beel_6.jpg

Celebrating anti-airport victory Locals celebrate cancellation of the airport, make victory signs. Source: The Daily Star
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Arial_Beel_7.jpg

Fishing in Arial Beel Arial Beel wetlands support many fishing livelihoods. Source: Skykh Serak, shykhseraj.tumblr.com
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Arial_Beel_5.jpg

Arial Beel Rakkha Committee protests 31st January 2011 demonstration on the highway, stones thrown by protesters. Source: Shawkat Jamil, Farhana Barna
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Arial_Beel_3.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update17/09/2018

Images

 

Arial Beel wetlands

Cutlivated Arial Beel wetland in Munshigonj. Source: CNNiReport

Fishing in Arial Beel

Arial Beel wetlands support many fishing livelihoods, Source: Skykh Serak, shykhseraj.tumblr.com

Protest against airport at Arial Beel

Source: move4world.com

Arial Beel Rakkha Committee protests

February 2011 demonstration on the highway, stones thrown by protesters, policemen injured. Source: Shawkat Jamil, Farhana Barna

Protest and highway blockade, February 2011

30,000 protested against the airport, policeman killed and 100 others injured. Source: thedailystar.net

Protest against airport at Arial Beel

Villagers protest on 26th January 2011. Source: Moinul Islam

Celebrating anti-airport victory

Locals celebrate cancellation of the airport, make victory signs. Source: The Daily Star