Earth News: An Environmental Conscience

Article excerpt

Brazil is launching a $117 million national environmental programme, initially focusing on the Amazon Basin, the Pantanal wetlands and the Atlantic forest and coastal areas, with the help of the World Bank. Its aims are to contain river pollution from agriculture, mining and industry, protect wildlife and forests, and increase the environmental education of the local population.

An $18 million programme in Poland will result in improved air quality in the Katowice-Krakow region, with the Government taking first steps to clean up the heavily polluted upper Vistula River basin.

These and other recent efforts are documented in "The World Bank and the Environment", the Bank's annual report for 1990 on its environment-related activities. The Bank, criticized in the past for not paying enough attention to the environmental impact of its projects, in 1989 embarked on an ambitious three-year effort to make environmental concerns an integral part of its activities.

It assists countries, such as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea and Tunisia, develop environmental strategies. The focus is on preservation of natural habitats and countering land degradation, depletion of fresh water resources, urban, industrial and agricultural pollution and degradation of the "global commons" -- that is, fighting environmental problems that transcend boundaries, such as ozone depletion.

The 102-page report offers an overview of the Bank's current environmental policies and activities, including research and lending operations. It also explains how the Bank's environmental work is being organized and staffed.

Efforts to protect the environment and mitigate potential adverse effects of certain World Bank investments on local populations in Botswana, India and Brazil took "considerable staff effort" during 1990, the Bank reports.

Acknowledging the controversial nature of some of those projects, the Bank says that introducing a more systematic environmental assessment in its work "should reduce such problems in the future". However, it would also mean that "project monitoring is likely, on balance, to require much greater attention than in the past".

Projects considered controversial, now being environmentally supervised, include the National Land Management and Livestock Project in Botswana, the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Singrauli Thermal Power Project in India, the Kedung Ombo project in Indonesia, and the Caraias Iron Ore project and the Northwest III Settlement Project (Polonoroeste) in Brazil.

As to the institution's future directions, "improved understanding of the links between poverty and environment remains a priority", the report says.

"Good environmental policy is good development policy in almost every sense", World Bank President Barber Conable stated in London on 19 March at a conference sponsored by the daily newspaper The Observer and the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Mr. Conable added that the Bank "must also be an environmental agency". During the fiscal year ending 30 June 1990, about half of the development projects it supported included environmental-protection measures. …