"Clean air can save many lives"

CARTER BRANDON an environmental economist in the environment and natural resources division of the World Bank (WB), has done considerable work in assessing the environmental and health impacts of pollution in Asian countries, including India. His 1995 study which estimated that some 40,000 people die a premature death in India due to air pollution alone was a wake-up call to the regulatory, scientific and medical authorities in India. Brandon spoke to PRITI KUMAR about the World Bank's current and future work in the area of air pollution in India

Published: Thursday 31 December 1998

WB has done a number of studies to assess the health and environmental costs of air pollution in developing countries, including India. On what WB hopes to achieve through these studies:
World Bank has focused on environmental issues that affect people. According to WB estimates, about 40,000 lives per year are lost in India due to pollution. Until we conducted this study, we didn't really know how many people were affected. By doing such a study, we could make a powerful case stating that clean air can save many lives. But 40,000 deaths is just the beginning of the story. Millions are getting sick too.

We know that air pollution causes asthma, bronchitis, heart ailments and lead in the air reduces a child's Intelligent Quotient (iQ). Through our work we can quantify all this. We will try to be strategic as well as correct, and tailor our message to what we think can help make a difference.

On how WS ensures that what comes out of these studies is put into action:
Take air pollution, for example. In Delhi, the problem threatening the people are the fine particulate matter emit- ted by diesel-run vehicles. We can suggest a policy calling for a change in the fuel specification, how frequently the fuel standard is inspected, and even call for vehicles with cleaner technology to replace the dirtier ones.

On which institutions the WB works with in the area of air pollution:
World Bank is workmg with the government - the Central Pollution Control Board (cpcB), Delhi government and the transport commissioner. We work with the national petroleum ministry to set fuel standards because one of the things we would like to see is the introduction of lead-free petrol. We also work a lot with the private sector, particularly the vehicle manufacturers' union and trade associations. We are trying to be broad-based, but touching all the corners at the same time. The government alone cannot do every- thing. Involvement of the private sector and the public in general makes a big difference.

On how WB is supporting the CPCB:
CPCB is an advisory body. It sets standards and makes policies. I think they would agree if I say they don't have any immediate regulatory powers. We work with them on the powers that they have, which is to monitor, analyse and set standards. In Delhi, for instance, we are working with them on setting vehicle standards for new and used vehicles. We also help CPCB to monitor pollutants, such as ozone. But we do not have enough information on the effects of ozone in the air. We are expanding our monitoring programme by buying equipment, training operators and people who do the analysis.

But don't you think CPCB can work independently without WB's support?
I think any organisation can do better with a bit of advice. At the World Bank, we get new ideas all the time. Take a very practical example. CPCB monitors air pollution in Delhi. They have a station in a place for a while. When somebody tells them that the trees around there have grown over the years and so the station is less representative than it used to be, its a fresh view on an old problem. Another example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has some new software for monitoring air pollution. But you might not know about it in India. Some of our colleagues know about it, hence they can bring the software to India. This makes things that would not happen in five years happen in five months.

But may be they just not applying their minds.
I respect what CPCB is trying to do. At the same time, we don't expect them to do everything. Our message to the CPCB is loud and clear: make your data more available, more broadly and more quickly. People need data to understand who is polluting, and how it affects them.

On the need for India to develop its own epidemiological models:
Based on studies done around the world, we have a pretty good idea of how pollution makes people sick. But it will be useful if we have better statistics in India. On the other hand, I would always argue that we do not need better models than the existing ones. The need to do local epidemiological work should not be the excuse for not taking action. I believe that the present models are good enough to point out how bad the problem is and what creates the problem.

On what other studies WB plans to do in India:
There are three areas that the World Bank would like to focus on. Firstly, air pollution. We would like to know what is the cheapest possible way to tackle air pollution. Secondly, water pollution. We will be starting research in this area. Thirdly, land degradation. We have estimated that due to land degradation, the resource base in rural India is degrading. Agricultural yields are four to five per cent below what it would have been had degradation not set in.

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