"Sometimes, cost is not at all an issue"

The World Bank pumps in US $1 billion into Asia for environmental purposes every year. In India, the bank has been financing projects to control industrial and vehicular pollution. Maritta R V Bieberstein Koch-Weser , the head of the environment and natural resources division of the Bank's Asia technical department spoke to Frederick Noronha about the latest green initiatives in the Indian subcontinent

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

On the new initiatives planned by the World Bank (wb) for India:
The wb supports many programmes related to the environment in India. In order to prevent industrial pollution we offer industries loans to modernise and improve their environmental performance. We also encourage biodiversity conservation and social forestry. The bank is becoming increasingly active in the field of urban environmental management. The country's environment monitoring agencies like the state pollution control boards and the ministry of environment and forests at the Centre are being supported through funds from the Bank.

On the projects that the Bank has recently supported in India:
Some of the major projects being aided by the wb in India relate to industrial pollution control. Our outlays are as follows: we have spent us $1,000 million on forestry-related programmes, $1,900 million on renewable resources, $1,500 million on dam safety, $1,556 million on industrial pollution control, $500 million on biodiversity conservation and $500 million on the Delhi/Surat environment management programme.

The above figures merely reflect official expenditure. But not everything one does for conserving the environment is expensive. There could be low-cost environmental management projects. In fact, sometimes, cost is not at all an issue. It is more a matter of concept, of training. The institutional strengthening of environmental agencies around the country is an important task at hand for the bank.

The projects planned for the future deal with hazardous waste disposal. There is a need for safe sites. We have initiated work on industrial safety. One does not need a repeat of the terrible Bhopal accident. We are studying the preventive measures that industries might want to undertake in the long-run. The industries which are not cash rich may have a hard time in undertaking these measures. We are therefore, trying to come out with an assistance package.

On taking up regional environmental issues in South Asia:
We are beginning to look at regional environmental management issues. We discussed this at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (saarc)-wb meeting held in Goa in June, this year. Often, problems like pollution and siltation may originate in one country but spill over into the others. For instance, water bodies like the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are common to many countries. It does not make sense for one country to do good environmental work in isolation. If everybody works towards common objectives with assistance from agencies like the wb, very good programmes could result.

On wb plans to tackle vehicular pollution:
Since urban air pollution is generated by not only industry but vehicles too, we are working on the vehicular emission aspect. Our Mumbai study Urban Air Quality Management Strategy in Asia: urbair, Greater Mumbai Report , published in 1996, is a part of that. We are now preparing a larger workshop and programmes on how to avoid the use of leaded fuel and two-stroke engines. We feel South Asian industry is taking great strides. The legislators of the region can certainly help out in this. The other set of our concerns relate to biodiversity -- the forests. Natural resources are our assets.

There is also a big programme which is labelled under agriculture. It deals with water management, irrigation, and water storage. As you know, water management, especially in southern India, has become a real constraint.

On the environmentalists' viewpoint that globalisation which is being promoted by the wb is actually harming the environment:
That is not so. I believe that sound planning is the essence of good environmental management. There are places which are not affected by globalisation and still manage the environment terribly. It is a question of sound planning and being smart about the future.We came out with a study in 1995 called Towards an Environmental Strategy for Asia and found that 85 per cent of the industries which will be operating in Asia in the year 2010 did not exist in 1995. We see this as a fabulous opportunity.

If you have the requisite local laws, if you know what you want, and if you say "we do not accept bad environmental quality", then what you can achieve in this period of economic transformation and expansion is a much better and a much more environmental-friendly industrial path, than what you had in the past.

On whether the wb has grown more conscious of its green image:
We have become the single-largest lender in the world as far as the environment is concerned. Our budget for Asia (including East and South Asia) alone amounts to us $1 billion per year. We have around 300 specialists at the bank working on environmental assessment and policy as well as on economic instruments for the environment. If you look around in the international organisations, we are probably the ones who have tried the hardest to really do much more than lip service to become very technical. We are very specialised and very specific in getting the projects done.

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