World Bank pushes environmental overhaul Alarm is sounded on rising population

May 18, 1992|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The World Bank urges adoption of "people-first" environmental policies in a report to be published today, warning that food production will have to double and industrial output triple for the 3.7 billion people expected to be added to global population by the year 2030.

Providing adequate water, sanitation, electricity and roads for the increased population, with adequate environmental safeguards, will cost an additional $75 billion a year by the turn of the century, the report estimated.

"Such investments must and can be afforded," says the bank in its 1992 report on development and the environment, which focuses on the developing world. "Good environmental policies often bring good economic returns."

In a somber assessment of "the greatest challenge facing the human race," Andrew Steer, staff director of the report, told reporters: "It is a period which could see unprecedented damage to the environment and to human health and welfare. By the end of this period, pollution could cause millions of premature deaths each year."

Aquifers and soils could be "irreparably damaged" and a further third of tropical forest lost, Mr. Steer said.

"The prospects for environmental damage are very real indeed," he said.

The 308-page report suggests a twofold strategy to head off environmental disaster and to encourage poverty-combating development: policies promoting "efficient growth" and strong environmental protection, with incentives to change industrial operations and household practices.

The most serious challenges already confronting the world, according to the report, are:

* Inadequate sanitation for 1.7 billion people.

* Lack of safe water supplies for 1 billion people.

* Soot and smoke pollution that affect 1.3 billion people.

* Indoor pollution from cooking fires that affects up to 700 million women and children.

* Poor land stewardship affecting hundreds of millions of farmers, forest dwellers and indigenous people.

"If one accepts these as the priorities, one has to acknowledge that in addressing the environmental problems, we need more of the right kind of development rather than less," said Mr. Steer.

Lawrence Summers, chief economist of the World Bank, said, "We are putting forth a kind of people-first environmentalism here. The emphasis is on those environmental problems that have the greatest consequences for people, for people today, for people in the future.

"Very often the environmental problems which have the greatest impact are the local environmental problems which have perhaps been eclipsed in the debate."

He said the report delivered a message of "concerned optimism," adding, "It is a message that with appropriate policies . . . it will be possible to achieve the twin goals of development and environmental protection. Contrary to what many people think, these two objectives go in tandem."

The report advocates a series of "win-win" policies to promote income growth and alleviate poverty while protecting the environment. It urges removal of subsidies that encourage excess use of fossil fuels, irrigation water, pesticides and logging. It supports empowering and educating farmers, local communities and indigenous people, and says that educating young girls would be "the most important" environmental policy for the developing world.

It reasons: "Educated women have smaller families and are able to make better use of natural resources."

Such "win-win" policies will not be enough, however, the report states.

Strong environmental protection policies and institutions are also needed to ensure sensible trade-offs between income and nature.

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