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Spotlight on the Environment: South Asia

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A river wild in India 

South Asia is on the path toward sustainable economic growth, with net adjusted saving on the rise, and a positive savings rate. The region is likely to halve by 2015 the number of people without access to safe drinking water, but will not achieve the same target for improved basic sanitation. In 2000 the region accounted for less than 6 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A heavy environment disease burden

Environmental disease burden
green arrowThis map shows the region’s burden of environment-related disease in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). One DALY = one full year of healthy life lost.
green arrowEnvironment-related infections interact negatively with malnutrition, impairing human and economic development outcomes. In Pakistan, water-related infections through their effect on malnutrition cause an annual loss in education performance equivalent to 4.2 percent of GDP.
green arrowMalnutrition impairs both immune systems and the ability to deal with environmental hazards (e.g. to do with bad sanitation). While South Asia’s stunting rates fell from 50.8 percent of under-5s (1990) to 34.5 percent (2005), levels of malnutrition may rise again among poor households as food prices stay high.
 green arrowIndoor air pollution contributes to chest infections and death, especially among children. South Asia accounts for 37 percent of global disease due to indoor air pollution. Nepal ranks fourth among the world’s top 10 users of biomass products. 
green arrowLack of access to electricity is a major health risk factor. Over 55 percent of South Asia’s rural dwellers lack access to electricity (over 93 percent in Afghanistan).
green arrowOutdoor air pollution places both adults and children at risk. This is an acute problem in urban areas of fast-growing economies like India.
Climate change and South Asia
round bullet South Asia faces a large potential health risk from climate change through increased malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria.
round bullet Earlier snow melt and the loss of glacial buffering in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas will affect the seasonality of water supply for large segments of India’s population. Owing to sea level rise, the flooded area of Bangladesh is projected to increase by 23–29 percent or more with a global temperature rise of 2ºC.
round bullet Climate change is likely to worsen water stress globally. South Asia already has a level of internal freshwater resources below 2,000 cubic meters per capita.
round bullet Insurance is critical to cushion against natural disasters, especially in Bangladesh
Progress on environmental sustainability 
green arrow

In 2004, 16 percent of South Asia’s population lacked access to clean water (down from 29 percent in 1990) but 63 percent lacked access to basic sanitation.

green arrowIndia will contribute much to new global energy demand in the next 2 decades. 
green arrowIndia is third among the top 10 emitters of industrial water pollution, with emissions of over 1.5 million kg per day. 
green arrowSouth Asia has positive adjusted net saving, a necessary condition for sustainable economic growth.
 green arrowThe region has less than 0.06 hectares of forest per capita. However, it has not lost much forest cover between 2000 and 2005.
 green arrow Agricultural land, which makes up 51 percent of the region’s total natural wealth of $2,600 per capita, has been falling in value in poor countries worldwide. Agricultural land value is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. 

Photo credit: Nikhil Gangavane |

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