With several indices corroborating South Asia as the worst environmental performer and sufferer, a prudent outlook is imperative to avoid further degradation
South Asia is the hardest-hit region of the world under devastation by environmental degradation triggering climate change. India is the largest in size, both in the geographical area and population, and therefore, has the largest share of the human suffering. Environmental Performance Index (EPI) shows that out of the five bottom-ranking countries in the world, three are from South Asia: Bangladesh at 179th, India at 177th, and Nepal at 176th. Pakistan's performance is also very bad which ranks at 169th. Only Sri Lanka is better placed at 70th rank. No wonder, the whole region is reeling under the vagaries of climate coupled with unsafe air and water.
A recent working paper of Asian Development Bank (ADB) on environmental performance in Asia says that Asia as a whole shows rather unsatisfactory performance – the second-lowest EPI score among regions at 50, lower than the world average of 56. Environmental Health Index (HLT) level is assessed at 49, which is 21 per cent lower than the world average of 62. In comparison, the region of Europe and North America, where a large number of developed nations are located, has achieved an HLT of 93, nearly double that of Asia. Low performance in environmental health indicates greater risks that the population in Asia is exposed to on average in terms of polluted air, water, and excessive heavy metal exposure.
In South Asia, India's EPI in 2018 was only at 30.57 which was a degradation of 0.01 per cent in the last decade, making it the second-worst performing country in the region only after Bangladesh. Bangladesh has improved its performance by 0.67 per cent, though its EPI is worst in the region at 29.56. The best-performing country in the region is Sri Lanka which improved its performance by 1.24 per cent, scoring 60.61 on EPI.
South Asian countries also performed badly in regard to environmental health (HLT). India is the worst performer which scored only 9.32 in 2018 though the country was able to improve it by 5.69 per cent. Sri Lanka was the best performer which scored 64.70 but could improve only 0.76 per cent in the last decade. Nepal and Bangladesh performed only a little better than India, scoring only 10.54 and 11.96. Pakistan is improving by a decadal improvement rate of only 1.51 per cent with a score of only 16.80.
The paper said that low performance in environmental health is the major contributor to the laggard countries' bottom ranking mostly in South Asia. The HLT index for Bangladesh, India, and Nepal were all assessed to be around 10, which is over 80 per cent lower than the world average of 62. The EPI report highlights air quality as a particularly problematic area. For example, in India, it is estimated that exposure to air pollution caused 1.24 million deaths in 2017, which were 12.5 per cent of the total deaths. In this sense, air quality deterioration is triggering a severe public health crisis that demands urgent actions.
Countries in Asia received a relatively better assessment on ecosystem vitality, as the regional average Ecosystem Vitality Index (ECO) score of 51 is only slightly lower than the world average level of 53. Despite a much smaller gap with leading countries, Asia has been still ranked the third-lowest region in terms of ecosystem vitality, which indicates considerable room for continuing regional sustainability endeavours.
In South Asia, Bangladesh is the worst-performing country with ECO score on 41.29, though the country has improved its performance by 0.01 per cent in the last decade. India is performing only a little better scoring 44.74
but has been degrading in the last ten years by 0.58 per cent. Nepal is also degrading by 0.89 per cent but has a little better score at 45.38. Sri Lanka is the only country which scored 57.88 which is almost five per cent above the world average.
More than half of the Asian countries have seen their ECO decline or remain stagnant. Rapid industrialisation and economic growth in Asia over the past decade could be a major reason behind this trend. Increasing production activities, resource extraction, transportation, and consumption, all invariably impose burdens on the ecosystem and reduce vitality. A closer look at the carbon dioxide (CO2) emission profile of countries in Asia reveals that the atmospheric CO2 is the largest contributor to human-induced climate change, and is also the most heavily weighted component in calculating ECO.
Consistent with the trend of declining ecosystem vitality, CO2 emissions per capita has been on a constant rise for most Asian countries in the last 40 years. The highest per capita CO2 emission in India was only 0.58 ton in 1980 which has increased to 1.69 in the present decade. It is the highest in the region. However, the annualised growth rate for the country has declined from 5.4 per cent to 4.5 per cent. The annualised emission growth rate in Nepal is the highest at 6.5 per cent in the last decade. The best-performing country in the region is Sri Lanka that has been able to achieve a negative annualised growth rate of CO2 emission at minus 0.2 per cent in the last decade. All the countries in the region have substantially increased CO2 in terms of quantity, from two to four times and more.
Given the scenario, the worst-hit South Asian countries need to strike a fine balance between growth and environment to avoid devastation due to environmental degradation and climate change. There must be suitable changes in climate change laws and the adoption of cleaner technologies. Environmental governance should be improved to implement corrective measures. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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