Factors that contribute to Asia's continuing environmental imbalances
myriad problems that confront the region include burgeoning population figures, poverty, economic development, weak official infrastructure. The relationship between population and environment is a close one. It is believed that rising populations could lay an extra stress on the natural resources. However, it is not the increase in population that destroys the environment, but rather the behaviour of the populace towards the latter. For example, some countries like Taiwan and South Korea have ensured that population pressures do not result in resource degradation. This they did through a combination of sustainable growth in agricultural producti-vity and job creation outside agriculture. But countries like India and the Philippines were slow to react and favoured capital-intensive industry. Surplus labour was unable to shift to alternative employment from agriculture and environmental damage rose to great proportions.
Again, slower rates of population growth has not necessarily contributed towards less environmental degradation. Sri Lanka and Thailand, which have registered decreasing population rates, have also shown a similar high rate of environmental degradation. In case of population growth and land degeneration, it is not necessary that higher population figures erode the land base. As the adb publication states, Japan and usa are both examples of countries where increasing population density has been accompanied by improved land conditions. It is increasing population figures combined with poverty that could create more damage to the environment.
As for water shortages, Indonesia with one of the world's highest freshwater endowments per person, faces water shortage. China, India and Pakistan face severe water shortages that have more to do with water subsidies than population growth. The World Resources 1987 report published by the usa-based World Resources Institute states that if Pakistan's irrigation system increased its efficiency by 10 per cent, the water saved could irrigate another two mha. But as long as Pakistan's farmers do not have to bear the true cost of water, they are unlikely to appreciate its scarcity and are likely to waste it.
Poverty has almost become synonymous with Asia. Nearly one billion people in Asia live below the poverty line and consi-dering that their first priority is to survive, environmental protection does not mean much to them. Natural resources like fuelwood, fodder or fish and water are all accessible to them. Invariably, the poor tend to live in areas more prone to environmental-disasters such as flooding and landslides or near polluting factories and hazardous dump sites. Environmental degradation reinforces poverty, which in turn reinforces environmental degradation and the vicious circle continues. Like population growth, poverty seems to exacerbate environmental problems in the presence of market and policy failures.
Do higher income levels imply a worse environment? This question has sparked off several research studies and a relationship known as the 'environmental Kuznets curve' has been arrived at, which in an inverted u -shaped pattern shows that as the country gets richer, its environ-ment will get worse before it gets better ( See graph: For better or worse ).
As economic development accelerates, agriculture becomes more intensive, resource extraction increases and industrialisation takes off; thus the rates of natural resource depletion begin to increase and the quantity and toxicity of wastes begin to rise. Eventually as economies become richer still, their economic structure shifts toward industries and services that use natural resources less intensively. Greater prosperity brings with it increased environmental awareness and a willingness and capacity to pay for a cleaner environment. As a result, countries enforce environmental regulations more strictly and spend more money on the environment. Subsequently, environmental degradation levels off and gradu-ally declines.
This relationship seems to apply to both urban and rural environments. While the environmental Kuznets curve has been criticised by many scholars, it is indeed true that cities like Bangkok, Seoul and Shanghai are far more polluted than they were 20 to 30 years ago, and their pollution levels are rising at rates that match or exceed their rates of economic growth. Conversely, cities in the industrial countries are cleaner today than they were 20 or 30 years ago.The Kuznets curve for Asia suggests that with increasing economic development, the environment will take a beating before bouncing back to good form and that during the next 20 to 30 years, environmental quality will improve slowly in East Asia and in the higher-income countries of Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia, and will continue to deteriorate in South Asia and the lower-income countries of Southeast Asia.
In Asia, certain types of pollution tend to rise more rapidly with higher income, but they also tend to fall more quickly. Higher initial population density together with more rapid industrialisation may account for the rapid rise, while increased environmental awareness and the availability of new abatement technology permit pollution to be reduced at relatively lower income levels.
But should economic growth always result in worsening environment or can the Kuznets curve be flattened? All it seems to take, according to adb, is effective policy decisions to ensure that economic growth can be harmonised with the surrounding environment.
partial estimates of the economic costs of environmental degradation, selected economics and years
|ECONOMY||FORM OF ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE||YEAR||ANNUAL COST ($ MILLION)||COST AS A PERCENTAGE OF GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT|
|China||Productivity losses caused by soil erosion, deforestation, and degradation; water storage, and destruction of wetlands||1990||13,900-26,600||3.8-7.3|
|Health and productivity losses caused by environmental pollution in cities||1990||6,300-9,300||1.7-2.5|
|General environmental degradation and pollution||1989||31,000||8.5|
|Indonesia||Health effects of particulates and lead above WHO standards in Jakarta||1989||2,164||2.0|
|Pakistan||Health impact of air and water pollution and productivity losses from deforestation and soil erosion||Early 1990s||1,706||3.3|
|Philippines||Health and productivity losses from water and air pollution in vincity of Manila||Early 1990s||335-410||0.8-1.0|
|Thailand||Health effects of particulates and lead above WHO standards||1989||1,602||2.0|
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