FT: Asia propelled 'to brink of environmental catastrophe'

Mark Jones jones118 at SPAMlineone.net
Tue Jun 19 01:38:04 MDT 2001

By Rahul Jacob in Hong Kong
Published: June 18 2001 16:53GMT | Last Updated: June 18 2001 19:44GMT

Rapid population growth coupled with government inaction and weak
institutions in Asia are pushing the region to the brink of environmental
catastrophe, the Asian Development Bank warned in a report released on

The report predicted that the Asia-Pacific region is expected to replace the
countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as
the world's biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2015.

The ADB said the region had already lost up to 90 per cent of its wildlife
habitats to agriculture, infrastructure and deforestation by the mid-1980s.

"Environmental degradation in the region is pervasive, accelerating and
unabated," said Tahir Qadri, a senior environment specialist with the ADB.

Rapid population growth has contributed to the pressure on land in Asia
being the "most severe in the world". Nearly 30 per cent of the region's
land area had suffered some form of degradation. The march of the desert is
unyielding, while about 1.3bn people, or 39 per cent of the region's
population, live in areas prone to desertification and drought, the report

The region is also undergoing some of the world's most rapid urbanisation
ever, which is creating problems of its own. More than half Asia's
population is likely to be living in cities in about 20 years, tripling the
urban population from 360m in 1990 to more than 1bn.

By some measures, air pollution levels in Asian cities are already among the
highest in the world. By one yardstick of pollution - the levels of
particulate matter in the air - 12 of the 15 worst offenders are cities
located in the region. The study found that air pollution in cities in
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is causing 100,000 premature deaths every
year and the loss of more than 1bn work days.

Governments in south Asia are also doing an appalling job in providing their
populations with access to clean water.

Mr Qadri rejected the notion that there was a trade-off between sound
environmental management and poverty reduction, often used as a
justification for lax environmental regulation in developing countries.

"Environmental mismanagement affects the poor first. Air pollution affects
people living on the street, not people in cars. You can't separate poverty
reduction from environmental management," he said. He argued that failed
policies and weak institutions were a large part of the explanation for
environmental degradation.

But the report also found cases of governments responding to the growing
environmental crisis with policies that are working. Mr Qadri said China had
reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 17 per cent in the past five years, a
period of rapid economic growth. In Bangkok and Bogor, Indonesia, water
pricing prompted consumers to use water sparingly, with consumption in the
latter dropping a third after prices were raised sharply, he said.

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