Around 3,000 workers were forced to work on the project in April amid a nationwide shutdown, risking their health, says the Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt
A group of 44 civil society organisations and climate movement platforms from 18 countries has called on Japan to stop financing the Matarbari Coal-Fired Power Plant Project Phase 2.
The Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED) sent a letter in this regard to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) Shinichi Kitaoka via email on Thursday, reads a press release.
In the letter, the forum of progressive development activists and organisations from all over Bangladesh raised serious human rights and environmental concerns regarding the power plant in Matarbari of Cox's Bazar district.
Greenpeace, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, NGO Forum on ADB, Oil Change International, CLEAN Bangladesh, and JACSES Japan also signed the letter, among others.
The group also argued that Bangladesh is already burdened with power overcapacity and only 43 percent utilisation. It said the nation paid around $1.1 billion to idle plants as capacity payment in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Additional power capacity will lead Bangladesh towards financial disaster as the Covid-19 pandemic has already caused a drastic reduction in electricity demand, the letter reads.
Bangladesh requires around $8 billion for post-coronavirus economic recovery and has already sought $4.5 billion in loans from foreign donors, the press release reads, adding that $1 billion of the loans have been sought from Jica.
In the meantime, super cyclone Amphan ravaged the nation's coastline last month and caused damage worth $129 million.
Hence, the Matarbari coal-fired power plants are highly contradictory to Jica's emphasis on sustainable development in Bangladesh as those are likely to be stranded assets and will need a huge amount of government subsidies, according to the letter.
Jica has already provided approximately $1.48 billion and anticipates providing an additional $1.32 billion to Bangladesh.
The second phase of the project with additional 1,200MW capacity has been proposed, which will be funded by Jica.
The group also said that Jica cannot deny responsibility for workers' rights violations on the Matarbari project site.
Around 3,000 workers were forced to continue work during the Covid-19 shutdown in April, risking their health and lives, the press release adds.
As a co-sponsor of the project, Jica's recognition of human rights standards, such as Official Development Assistance (ODA) considerations for human health and safety – enshrined in Jica's guidelines – warrants that they address the right to safe health for workers.
"Moreover, pollution from Matarbari power plant (Phase-1) is estimated to cause up to 14,000 premature deaths during its operational years. Jica's finance to coal plants would be linked to deaths in Bangladesh and contradicts its stated aims of achieving SDGs," reads the press release.
The group also called for an investigation from Jica on the issues of compensation and loss of livelihoods related to the Matarbari project to ensure affected communities do not continue to suffer from hardship.
They argued that delay in compensation and providing alternative housing and livelihood does not comply with Jica's Environmental and Social Considerations Guidelines.
"Jica is our long-term development partner and we would like them to invest in renewables, not in dirty coal," said Hasan Mehedi, member secretary of BWGED.
"Jica should support us in the transformation to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society, as per their Climate Change Cooperation Strategy. This is how both Japan and Bangladesh can attain the objectives and goals of the Paris Agreement," he added.