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'Now or Never': 400 Kilometer March Begins in Bangladesh to Oppose Coal Plants

"We can't allow this power plant to destroy the world's largest mangrove forest."

Bengal tigers are among the species living in the Sundarbans mangrove forests. (Photo: jeet_sen/flickr/cc)

Hundreds of protesters in Bangladesh on Thursday launched a 400 kilometer (248 mile) march in opposition to the government's plans to build two coal-powered plants near the world's largest mangrove forest region on the border between Bangladesh and India.

Work has already begun on the $1.7 billion venture, but protesters fear that pollution from the plants would destroy the forests, known as the Sundarbans, which are home to a range of species—including Bengal tigers—and are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage site.

"It's now or never. We can't allow this power plant to destroy the world's largest mangrove forest," Ruhin Hossain, one of the march organizers told Agence France-Presse.

The New Indian Express reports:

The four-day march of environmentalists, and cultural and political activists started at Dhaka's National Press Club and was being led by a platform of left-leaning political parties, social and cultural activists, experts and professionals -- named the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Xinhua reported.

According to Al Jazeera, the 1,320-megawatt plant already built by the Indian and Bangladeshi governments and a 545-megawatt facility planned for construction by the U.S.-based energy firm Orion are necessary to provide electricity to roughly a third of the population that currently does not have access to power.

However, the opponents say the venture would destroy a critical ecosystem that is already weakened by pollution and overpopulation. In 2014, the forests were the site of a "catastrophic" oil spill that raised fears of long-lasting ecological damage when an empty vessel struck a tanker carrying about 92,500 gallons of oil.

The Sundarbans have "saved us from cyclones, flash floods and it's our biggest protection against tsunamis," Hossain told AFP.

Anu Mohamad, the committee's member secretary, said last week, "No sensible person will deny that there are many alternative ways for electricity generation. But there is no alternative for [the] Sundarbans."

Roughly 1,000 climate activists, students, and others rallied in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka before embarking on the march.

Al Jazeera reports that at least part of the journey will take place on a bus as the activists travel from town to town to spread awareness and gather additional protesters.

"The Sundarbans is one of the pristine beauties of the world," Hossain said.

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