3 months ago

Bangladesh needs cheap funds to meet environmental challenges

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The finding of World Bank's latest 'Bangladesh Country Environment Analysis' that the country is losing 17.6 per cent of its GDP (in 2019) due to environmental causes is truly shocking. The loss is equivalent to the gains the economy makes in three years. Pollution takes its toll on the most vulnerable in society including the poor, children aged under five, the elderly and women. That Bangladesh is not being able to fully confront the various problems associated with environmental changes or pollution isn't entirely its fault. Rather, it is a victim of a lot of pollution that originate in the neighbouring region and elsewhere. The problem associated with funds needed to address environmental changes is also a sticking point. As pointed out by the Environment, Forests and Climate Change minister, nearly 40 per cent of the climate-fund Bangladesh gets comes as loan - not concessional loan or grant. It's a major point of contention. Why should the country have to fight a large portion of environmental problems that originate somewhere else with funds that are interest-bearing loans? The country cannot bear this financial burden and it should not be asked to meet global environmental goals if soft-loans and grants are not made available to it. Problems like pollution and other forms of environmental degradation that are transnational in nature require a different model of financing that revolve around shared costs.

The cost to human life is significant. The environmental analysis has calculated that air pollution together with unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene, lead exposure contributes to some 272,000 premature deaths and 5.2 billion days of illness. That translates into billions of dollars in lost revenue as so many deaths constitute a drain on the workforce and days not working mean loss of economic activity. Pollution is now all pervasive - both indoor and outdoor. Indoor pollution (e.g. unhealthy household cooking practices) is less recognised in Bangladesh but that combined with outdoor pollution is directly contributing to nearly 55 per cent of premature deaths, which in economic terms is equivalent to 8.32 per cent of GDP in 2019.

So, what is to be done? Apart from the obvious question of financing, there are certain things the government can do to mitigate some of the major areas of pollution. It means implementing existing environmental law that involves monitoring and penalising errant industrial units that engage in discharge of unmanaged / untreated waste into water bodies and sewage systems. The need to strengthen institutional capacity of monitoring agencies is another area that has to be priortised at policy level when national budgets are formulated. Merely strengthening manpower or empowering institutions will not go anywhere unless that is backed up by a good governance mandate from the top decision-makers in the country.

Apart from these, there is a great need for a push at policy level for "green" projects. Entrepreneurs will not be moved by arguments on the environment unless the financing part makes business sense. Merely enacting laws, redefining penalty systems will not have the desired effect. For any meaningful, lasting change to happen, climate-funds need to be made available to Bangladesh in the form of either long-term soft-loans and/or grants. This is the bottom line. The country is in the middle of a financial crisis and whilst it is obvious that merely ignoring the problem is causing more harm than good, it simply does not have the requisite finance to effect any meaningful change in environmental degradation or pollution. That is the message that policymakers need to take to world leaders and forums and this is a collective message from all nations that are bearing the brunt of global climatic changes.

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