Null and void

Environmental degradation in Asia could impose an onerous burden on its people

Published: Sunday 31 August 1997

Null and void

 Floods in Bangladesh take a h the overall quality of life of the nation suffers considerably when environmental rot sets in. This could either be in the form of economic or non-economic costs. Estimates of the economic costs of environmental degradation in Asia range from one to nine per cent of a country's Gross National Product ( See table: Exorbitant costs ). Effects on people's health -- from exposure to air and water pollutants and to heavy metals -- constitute the largest share of all environmental damage in terms of welfare loss. In Jakarta, for instance, particulates are a leading cause of premature death and lead emissions result in a significant loss of cognitive capacity among children. Estimates of damage from these two pollutants alone amount to as much as us $2.2 billion if both economic and welfare losses are added together.

As adb pointed out, water misallocation also incurs high costs. the overemphasis on agricultural irrigation results in water shortages for domestic and industrial use. The inadequate provision of water and sanitation services similarly comes at a huge price. As for putting an environmental infrastructure in place, in Asia, it is considered more of a luxury which contributes to health and quality of life but little to economic growth.

Conventional project appraisal underestimates the benefits that accrue from investment in environmental infrastructure, such as water supply and sanitation systems, wastewater treatment plants and pollution abatement technologies, according to adb . A policy paper of wb released in 1992, titled Water Resources Management , on the health benefits that result from water provision and sanitation reveals that adequate clean water and sanitation could prevent half of the deaths from diarrhoea, around three million people a year world-wide. Another survey discussed in D Canning's background paper, Productive and Environmental Infrastructure in Emerging Asian Economies , for the adb publication, found that a 20 per cent increase in clean water supply or sanitation could raise life expectancy significantly. The close link between environmental infrastructure, life expectancy and economic growth suggests that environmental investment should become a priority even in poor countries.

Natural resource depletion has also occurred substantially in Asia. The world's two largest tropical timber exporters, Indonesia and Malaysia, are in Asia, as are several oil producers, including Brunei, Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia; many Asian countries are significant producers of coal and non-fuel minerals and all Asian coastal states have substantial fish stocks. In most Asian countries non-renewable resources are being rapidly extracted and renewable resources are being harvested more quickly than they can be replaced. As the adb publication questions: can Asia sustain its development if it is running down its stocks of both non-renewable and renewable resources?

Asia has the lowest land area under protection as nature reserves when measured on a per person basis. Insufficient control of protected areas has resulted in their gradual erosion. The quality of national parks and other protected areas, and hence the revenues derived from them, are being compromised for several reasons: inadequate protection, low-quality services, and underpriced admission. For example, protecting and improving Thailand's Khao Yai National Park would cost between us $7-14 million a year, but it could generate us $35 million a year from higher entrance fees. The management of such parks can be privatised with environmental and social concerns adequately safeguarded through regulation, environmental performance bonds or bank guarantees.

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