South Asia, with a combined population of roughly 1.6 billion people, is a low-income region and home to half of the world’s poor. With its increasing population, urbanisation and economic growth, air pollution is a dire concern for South Asian countries.
Air pollution leads to an atmospheric transport of pollutants, thus making air pollution a regional issue. Therefore, no one country, especially in a poor and diversified region like South Asia, can tackle this on its own.
National actions in this regard seem to be insufficient. Lack of financial support, skilled and trained manpower, technology and technical know-how further limit each country’s capability to handle it.
To combat it, a regional focus and approach is essential in which all regional players have a role to play with equal but diversified responsibilities.
To this effect, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, have undertaken a number of projects for the creation of a meaningful framework to limit air pollution.
However, a greater participation of member states and a more comprehensive regional framework is still required.
This, with an emphasis on shared responsibilities towards addressing air pollution across member countries, is vital for sustained economic growth, environmental protection and safeguarding public health, especially for future generations.
A number of international Conventions and Treaties have been signed by of these member states and each has constituted its own designated organisational authority for the implementation of these conventions and treaties.
The major hurdles in their implementation are common to all states and include lack of financial and technical support, lack of coordination, inefficient legal and regulatory framework, ill-access to relevant databases and lack of awareness among local populations.
SAARC could be a possible forum to provide further impetus for looking into ways and means towards generating possible support for air pollution reduction.
However, while SAARC has been functional for about 25 years now, it has been ineffective. It needs to be strengthened with a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to observe whether the member countries are making progress on reducing air pollution and its associated impacts in the South Asian region.
Moreover, there needs to be a mechanism of binding commitments such that member countries undertake air pollution reduction seriously.
Through technical assistance protocols, countries would be able to learn from each other, thereby making the goal of minimizing air pollution and its trans-boundary effects possible and achievable.
It is also strongly recommended that SAARC summits should be more frequent so that no momentum is lost.
The objective of such legally binding agreements for South Asia (LBA-SA) should be to protect the human health and ecosystem by setting up time-framed air pollution reduction targets.
Some salient features of the envisaged LBA – SA could be
(a) The recognition of the problem of increasing air pollution in South Asia and its resulting environmental, economical and health impacts.
(b) Reduction of air pollution through exchange of information, consultation, research, monitoring, policy and assessments.
(c) The recognition that obligations regarding control and reduction of emissions of agreed air pollutants should allow for flexible and differentiated national programs to be implemented with a view of achieving the most cost-effective and environmentally benign air-quality improvements in the region.
For the implementation and further development of a cooperative program for monitoring and evaluating long-range transmission of air pollutants, whenever possible a comparable or standardized procedure for monitoring is strongly recommended based on the frameworks of national and international programmes.
Mechanisms would also need to be established for capacity building, finance, intra-state technology transfer, knowledge and information exchange and reporting and evaluation of LBA-SA effectiveness.
The specific elements of the LBA may be further built upon the above to accommodate “Policy Actions at the National and Regional Levels.”
The LBA-SA should acknowledge and ensure an active role of civil society in the development and implementation of the LBA-SA and finally, among others, the LBA-SA should establish effective and enforceable treaty compliance provisions.
Importantly, such an instrument would encourage governments to pass legislation in their respective countries, set up or revise and improve minimum emission standards for industrial, vehicular and brick kiln emission, use of filters to clean emissions and improved fuel quality, and banning the use of unclean or ‘dirty’ fuels for domestic or industrial consumption.
Dr. Mahmood A. Khwaja (Khwaja@sdpi.org) is Senior Advisor, Chemicals and Sustainable Industrial Development at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad.
This article was originally published at: Dateline
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.