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World Bank: India Can’t Grow Now, Clean Up Later

An employee sorts pieces of cloth at the Estee garment factory in Tirupur, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, June 19, 2013.
An employee sorts pieces of cloth at the Estee garment factory in Tirupur, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, June 19, 2013.
Aru Pande
Economists say India can not continue on an a path of "grow now and clean up later." The World Bank has released the first national assessment of the impact of environmental degradation on India's economy.
 
India, like its neighbor China, has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth for almost a decade and recently surpassed Japan as the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power.
 
But the World Bank said this growth and its impact on the environment do not come without a price tag.
 
In a study commissioned by the Indian government, the World Bank found the annual cost of environmental degradation amounts to $80 billion or roughly 5.7 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product.
 
The report focuses primarily on the impact on people’s health of pollution from burning fossil fuels - for example, an increase in cardiopulmonary disease among adults living in polluted urban areas.  
 
The World Bank found nearly 25 percent of child mortality cases in India can be attributed to environmental degradation and its effect on the country’s water and sanitation systems.
 
World Bank Environmental Economist Muthukumara Mani said quantifying the environmental sustainability of growth can help save lives and money.  “The productive part of the population that gets impacted from air pollution in the city, if you can save them, it is going to add up in terms of productivity, in terms of GDP.  That is something, that I would say, is a major finding of the study,” he stated.
 
The World Bank said low-emission “green-growth’’ is not only necessary, but is relatively inexpensive when looking at the larger picture.  Reducing air pollution and particle emissions by a third would lower India’s GDP by only seven-tenths of one percent.
 
The report’s author, Muthukumara Mani, said he was surprised how at how even small steps a country takes can have a big impact on the environment in the long term.
 
“Improving the efficiency of a power plant, which is a major cause of air pollution in India.  For example, washing coal is a simple process - not too expensive - which can also help in not only improving the efficiency of coal, but also save a lot of lives,” said Mani.
 
The World Bank has already put out such assessments for countries like Ghana and China, and hopes India’s government will realize there should be no trade-off between economic growth and protecting the country’s natural resources and the health of its people.

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