Dev possible while curbing pollution

Says WB senior director emphasising use of modern technology
Karin Erika Kemper

Rapid and unplanned urbanisation is affecting the quality of life in the capital as it is facing severe pollution due to the urban sprawl.

For controlling pollution, drastic measures have to be taken, said Karin Erika Kemper, senior director for the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Global Practice at the World Bank.

Air pollution has a direct effect on human health. In addition, the country is losing one percent (around Tk 20,000 crore) of the gross domestic product (GDP) every year due to air pollution, she added, citing a recent ongoing WB study on Bangladesh. 

“In Dhaka, one can see the haze and can feel the air pollution,” she said during an interview last week while visiting the country.

She said pollution affects on various levels. The poor are the worst sufferers.

Pollution also affects the competitiveness of a country, she said. When a company or an industry takes a decision about investing somewhere, it looks at the environmental aspects including air and river quality.

So, it is both health and competitiveness of the country that are affected, she added.

After nine years, Karin, who has many years of experience in working for World Bank's environment programme in Bangladesh, revisited the country.

This time around, she said she noticed more vehicles on the streets and a lot of urbanisation going on in the capital.

All these are a sign of economic growth. But time taken for going from one place to another has increased drastically than what was before, she said. Now it has become much more intense.

While talking about economic growth and sustainable environment, Karin said Bangladesh needs to escalate its economic growth to bring poor people out of poverty. But at the same time, the government needs to focus on controlling pollution.

When asked, how it is possible to make a balance between escalations of economic growth and slowing down the environment degradation, she said, “It's possible by using modern technology.”

“We have seen that a number of countries and mega cities have managed their pollution and they have continued growing,” she said. She gave an example saying, she just came to Dhaka after attending the World's Sustainable Development Forum in New Delhi, India. There were discussions, for instance, on how Japan took drastic measures in Tokyo to curb pollution.

“And we all know Japan has continued growing a lot while curbing their air pollution,” she said.

Also, Mexico City took clear measures against air pollution, and yet Mexico's GDP continued to grow.

In Dhaka's case, during winter, around 58 percent of the pollution comes from brick kilns. So, making decisions regarding those and enforcing those will be vital. Using new technology in the brick kilns industry should be an important policy decision for Dhaka, she said.

Another example of using new technology will be cleaner vehicles.

 “Actually Dhaka has done that already, when it introduced the CNG [Compressed Natural Gas]. It was essentially using the enhanced technology for its motor vehicles and at a time it really brought down pollution. Now, it may be the time for a next step,” she said.

When asked what about China as they do not care about curbing pollution and they have become one of the largest economies in the world, she said China has very much changed its stance towards pollution. In the last few years, China has really started to curb its air pollution and focused on reforestation. The World Bank is involved in a large project with China to reduce its air pollution. Beijing itself has taken a number of steps such as closing certain coal-fired power plants that were in its vicinity.

When asked whether it was possible to maintain a higher growth by managing natural resources in a sustainable way, she said a country has different types of capitals. It has human capital, manmade capital or the infrastructure and natural capital. The idea is that one brings these three types of capitals into balance. “Also, you would need better infrastructure and services, especially to serve the poor. A country will also need more water supply, electricity and transport.”

“You will also need human capital. Bangladesh has been very good at development of human capital… education and reducing maternal mortality.”

Bangladesh has really improved its human capital and it is continuing to do that, she said. “Now it's time to invest in the natural capital. Because, a country needs to manage all its assets to grow in a sustainable way.” Natural capital can be defined as the stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. When asked whether she thinks Bangladesh, which has a large population, can manage its environment in a sustainable way, she said she is convinced that it can be done. “There has been GDP growth of more than 6 percent in Bangladesh for an entire decade. I think entrepreneurship and innovation in the country and the global technological change will enable Bangladesh to do so, which I am really very confident about.”

Lately, the prime minister of Bangladesh emphasised the importance of blue economy, when asked how she thinks the country can maximise its benefit from that, Karin said, “It's great that the prime minister has emphasised blue economy as it is a very important part of the economy.” The idea of blue economy is that you combine sustainable coastal and ocean management with sustainable growth and development. Bangladesh has a large coastal zone and there are around 30 million people who depend on this coastal economy.  Now it is the question how the country can maintain the integrated coastal zone management.

For instance, maintaining the coastal forest and mangroves that provide the nursery for fish that people depend on. At the same time, it is necessary to be climate resilient because that is also important for people living in the coastal zones, she said. 


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