Pollution is one global crisis that can be solved, but it will take commitment, cooperation, and funding. That was the takeaway from a January 11th discussion in Washington, D.C. that brought together the World Bank, Pure Earth and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. The event, Fixing Pollution: A Winning Formula For Health And Wealth, was livestreamed to a worldwide audience.
World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, who opened the event, called pollution…
“a moral and economic crisis.”
He noted that the World Bank is investing more to fight pollution–increasing its lending from $1.6 billion in 2006 to $4 billion in 2016.
He also cited the successful example of Mexico, which has cleaned up significantly since being declared the world’s the most polluted city in 1992.
Karen Mathiasen, Senior Advisor in the Office of the US Executive Director, World Bank Group, noted that pollution “solutions are getting faster and cheaper.” When asked if she thought pollution is high enough on the global agenda, she replied:
“I can answer that in five seconds. It’s no and no. I think that’s pretty clear.”
Pure Earth President Richard Fuller, who co-chairs The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health along with renowned public health advocate Dr. Philip Landrigan, pinpointed the solution–help countries to help themselves.
“Countries are kind of in the dark about what to do about all of this. Some of them have got it together… but in the majority, they look at this and it’s overwhelming. So we need to help them… break down barriers between all the different agencies and work out what’s the biggest thing they need to address.”
“Let’s start that process, lets choose 20, 30, 40 countries that are willing and help them to evaluate and think through, and help them create the interventions.”
The GAHP’s Health and Pollution Action Plans are designed to do just that.
Fuller also stressed that pollution is a transboundary threat to ALL nations, and he issued a challenge to funders:
“Why don’t they add a little more into their public health budgets, let’s say 5%, like a bad tip at a restaurant.”
The panel agreed that in order to beat pollution, there must be cooperation. Development banks the private sector, governments (and their different agencies) and all other stakeholders must get together, in a mutli-sectoral approach, to address the challenge.
Amidst the important conversations about policy, strategy and funding, the panel also included a powerful, personal story shared by Lemmy Kapinka, an IT team leader at the World Bank, who spoke about growing up in Kabwe, Zambia. The Guardian newspaper had described his hometown as “the world’s most toxic town” in a report about Pure Earth’s cleanup work in the lead-poisoned community.
Kapinka’s story was a strong reminder to everyone about the importance of the fight to beat pollution, and of why they were all gathered together on that day, on that stage.
The audience included many key thinkers and leaders in the field, such as Mathy Stanislaus, current fellow at World Resources Institute, and the former Assistant Administrator for US EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, who joined in the Q&A session.