At least 30,000 people would die from worsened air pollution if all proposed coal-fired power plants were built in the Moheshkhali power hub of Cox's Bazar, claimed a study released on Tuesday.
Apart from the loss of lives, pollution from the power plants would cause irreparable damage to the community's health and other species.
"The preparation of the world's largest cluster of planned coal-fired power plants is proceeding with an extremely alarming lack of impact assessment and weak regulation," said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
"The [power] plants would cause profound long-term health risks for people in the region, and carry negative economic impacts, e.g. by significantly worsening the air quality and spreading toxic pollution along the Cox's Bazar sea beach and other important tourist sites and protected sites," he added.
The study, conducted by CREA, suggested that the eight power plants planned to be built in the region would also make Bangladesh extremely vulnerable to pandemics, like Covid-19, as the country has a high level of air pollution which could be a contributing factor to an increased number of deaths.
The report was prepared by analysing the exposed population, existing scientific studies on the relationship between pollutant concentrations and risk of different diseases, and Bangladesh national data on population, causes of deaths, the incidence of different illnesses, etc.
In Bangladesh, air pollution is responsible for about 11% of diabetes-related diseases, 16% of lung cancers, 15% of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, 10% of deaths from ischemic heart diseases, and 6% of strokes, according to data available from Global Burden of Disease Study 2017.
The new study, titled "Air Quality, Health and Toxic Impacts of the Proposed Coal Power Cluster in Chattogram, Bangladesh," has found that the air pollution will worsen if the country continues with its plan to build the proposed plants in Moheshkhali.
If built, the proposed plants would also constitute the largest concentrations of the coal power plants in the world, with a total capacity of 8.7 GW, combined with very lax emissions standards.
The analysis shows that the air pollutant emissions from the Matarbari-Moheshkhali plants would be responsible for as high as 30,000 air pollution-related deaths over an operating life of 30 years.
Among the deaths: 4,100 would be from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 7,000 from ischaemic heart disease; 2,900, including 200 children, from lower respiratory infections; 1,300 from lung cancer; 6,400 from stroke; and 2,400 from NO2-related exposure.
The study was released at a virtual press conference jointly organised by CREA and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), a platform to protect the country's environment.
Other health impacts of the power plant cluster include: 41,000 asthma emergency room visits, 32,000 new cases of asthma in children, 24,000 preterm births, 17 million days of work absence due to sickness, and 47,000 years of living with disability related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and stroke.
The plants would also emit an estimated 1,600 kilogrammes of mercury and 6,000 tonnes of fly ash per year into the air, of which 40% of the mercury would be deposited on land and in freshwater ecosystems of the region.
Dr Md Manzoorul Kibria, professor at the University of Chattogram, said that Cox's Bazar is a major source of marine fish, shrimp and dried fish in Bangladesh.
"The power plants would put the fisheries industry at risk due to its mercury and fly ash deposition," he said.
Professor Kibria further said that the area does not have the required land for the plants.
"Not a single household will be there if the land is acquired for the plants. And people's livelihood will extensively be damaged as a majority of them make ends meet by salt cultivation," he added.
In 2018, around 36,800 tonnes of marine fish were caught and 12,733 tonnes of shrimp were produced by different farms in Cox's Bazar. The region is also the biggest hub for the dried fish industry, worth yearly around Tk300 crore, or $37 million.
Sharif Jamil moderated the programme, with Rasheda K Chowdhury, former advisor to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and vice-president of Bapa, in the chair.