URBAN and industrial pollution in Asia—a by-product of rapid economic growth—is one of the region’s greatest development challenges. A World Bank study argues that environmental protection does not preclude economic growth, provided that concerted policy and investment efforts are made. Asian countries have started to address the issue, but more is needed to reduce today’s rising pollution trends.
During the last decade, the developing countries of Asia, especially East Asia, have experienced dramatic economic growth, ranging from 6 percent to 10 percent a year. But at the same time, pollution levels have been increasing even faster—by 10-20 percent a year in some energy, industry, and transport subsectors. As a result, the real costs of environmental degradation are mounting, taking the form of increasing health costs and mortality, reduced output in resource-based sectors, and irreversible loss of biodiversity and overall environmental quality.
These worrisome trends threaten to undercut the gains of growth both economically and in terms of the quality of life. But a recent World Bank study, echoing the message of the Bank’s World Development Report 1992, argues that these trends can be reversed and the remaining resources protected without sacrificing economic growth. Moreover, whereas a full cost valuation (including health and environmental costs not valued in the marketplace) of all pollution in the big Asian cities is 5-10 percent of urban GDP, the cost of cleanup is perhaps only 2-3 percent of GDP.