Make the world a better place

NATURE which inspires keen sentiments in many a poet and environmental activist, is now the subject of an annual report of the World Bank (WB) group. Reading the tedious report, one gets the impression that institutions concerned with the environment are now all- pervasive. Indeed, the report is an outcry against the purely technical response that environmental problems have evoked. The fact that it is imperative to reach out to those who interact on a daily basis With mother earth is also expressed by the report. This is ail the more essential as new concerns such as the preservation of biodiversity are addressed.

The report begins by pointing out critical institutional differences in dealing with traditional pollution- related problems and those related to biodiversity: "pollution control and energy conservation projects are presently performing considerably better than those primarily concerned with natural resource management and environmental institution-building at the national level. Projects that involve physical investment - as in the case of pollution- related operations - are generally easier to implement than those having comparatively large 'software' components, as is the case with many green and institutional projects. The former tend to be relatively more concentrated in countries with high incomes and stronger institutions, while natural resource management projects are seen as being typical of low-income countries with weaker institutions."

The report suggests a list of measures that the WE has instituted to strengthen institutions in collaboration with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), among others. A concern for raising funds for the preservation of biodiversity is evident throughout the book. One innovative but not entirely successful method suggested is creating a trust fund. Thus, the Foundation for Eastern Carpathian Biodiversity Conservation involving Poland, the Slovak Republic and Ukraine, is an offshore fund created with an endowment of us $500,000 and ECU (European curency unit) 100,000. The fund, in the early stages of its functioning, has got caught in myriad legal tangles and therefore has not been very effective.

Another innovative initiative taken by the International Finance Corporation is supporting new ventures-within the private sector monetarily. The Corporation has also been exploring the possibility of "establishing venture capital funds for biodiversity, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries". The cost of solar-energy technologies has been declining in recent years and the price of photovoltaic cells have also been reduced from being over several hundred thousand dollars per unit of peak capacity to less than us $6,000. Solar power, however, continues to support only peripheral uses that are small-scale, off-grid operations. The report announces that a new programme sponsored by the GEF Will begin an international initiative for research and development, and diffusion of this technology on a world wide scale.

Vehicle-generated air pollution is believed to be on the rise in the urban areas of the developing world. It has been presumed that the poor countries are willing to tole rate bad air rather than spend on improving its quality. A study on the willingness of people to pay for a reduction of air pollution has been conducted in Taiwan. The results of the study indicate that Taiwanese are willing to pay as much as $10 a day to avoid pollution. A similar study is being planned for New Delhi, to be conducted during the next fiscal year.

The annual report could have been more reader- friendly. Many of the details given therein could have been expressed in the form of tables and do not really need so much space. On the other hand, the ideas directing the WB can make the text more interesting.