Opening & Closing Remarks by H.E. Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari Director-General of South Asia Co-operative Environment Program (SACEP) at the South Asia Regional Workshop on Ambient Air Pollution and Public Health: A World Bank Regional Flagship Study on 24th March 2021, 10.00 India Standard Time
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning and good evening!
As the newly appointed Director-General of the South Asia Co-operative Environment Program, I am pleased to welcome you all to this South Asia Regional Workshop on Ambient Air Pollution and Public Health: A World Bank Regional Flagship Study, jointly organized by SACEP in collaboration with the World Bank.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we all know, air pollution in the South Asia region is not only a major health risk. It also has a damaging impact on the environment and agricultural crop yields. And this has significant economic consequences, affecting economic growth and the welfare of people across the region. It is estimated that 13-22% of deaths in South Asia are linked to the health effects of air pollution exposure, with associated estimated costs equating to 7.4% of the region’s GDP.
According to the recently published 2020 World Air Quality Report, which had analyzed PM2.5 data reported by ground-level monitoring stations around the world, South Asia represents the world’s most polluted region. It contains 37 of the 40 most polluted cities globally, with three countries home to cities that average US AQI measurements of “Unhealthy’ or worse.
However, when COVID-19 was deemed a pandemic in March 2020, the world experienced widespread restrictions on economic activity. This brought about drastic changes in human behavior and gradually demonstrated to all of us what clean air looks and feels like.
Ladies and Gentleman,
Since our establishment in 1982, SACEP has placed significant operational emphasis on promoting and supporting the protection and management of environment in the South Asia region. The importance of our regional work was recognized when in 1988, the Malé Declaration on Control and Prevention of Air Pollution and its likely trans-boundary effects for South Asia was adopted by the Ministers of the Environment at the 7th Governing Council of SACEP. In the meeting, the member-states reaffirmed their commitment to tackling the transboundary air pollution together. The Male Declaration is the only inter–government agreement on environment, which covers all South Asian countries.
While existing laws and policies have helped reduce air pollution at the national level in South Asia, we all know that air pollution does not stop at national borders. Many countries in our region are both the sources and receptors of transboundary air pollution. That is why we need to do more to initiate well-coordinated programs of action now, so our countries will no longer face the same air pollution problems, which have affected others in the world.
Ladies and Gentleman,
The challenge of air pollution, facing South Asia, was raised at the 14th Governing Council (GC) of SACEP, which us to work closely with our member-states to address it. The Governing Council also emphasized the need to facilitate a common platform for all our member-states to get together to discuss, share experiences and develop a common strategy to overcome the prevailing air pollution in the South Asia region. And this was re-endorsed at the 15th Meeting of the SACEP Governing Council in November 2019.
Indeed, it is only with the collaborative efforts of the Governments and every individual in society that can we implement the necessary measures to tackle the environmental challenges we face in our region today. And Air Pollution is no exception where a shared sense of urgency and political will are indispensable.
Consistent with our Governing Council’s decisions and in line with our mandate, SACEP is committed to serving our member-states to achieve intergovernmental cooperation to address the threat of air pollution and its impact on public health. That is why we were eager to partner with the World Bank to hold this workshop as soon as possible. We are confident that that this forum will provide an excellent platform for all experts and policymakers gathered here today to share technical knowledge and exchange ideas and experiences.
Once again, on behalf of both the SACEP and the World Bank, I wish this forum success and productive discussions towards achieving our shared goal of a pollution-free South Asia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we have reached the end of a very productive workshop, it is my pleasure to join you once again to close our discussions today.
Let me begin by thanking you, Mr. Hans Timmer, for the excellent summary of the proceedings, which you just provided. This will greatly help us plan what we need to do next, both here at the SACEP Secretariat and in our member-states.
Indeed, although this workshop is ending, our work is just beginning. We all must resolve to translate today’s deliberations into policies, programs and action plans that deliver the intended results. We have much work ahead of us to implement the changes we have discussed, and to make them work.
At the opening session, I hoped that we would exchange technical know-how and share ideas and experiences in this workshop, which we could adopt to further bolster our work in this important area. Of course, it is useful to outline some of the specific recommendations that emerged in today’s workshop to combat air pollution and to improve air quality conditions in the region such as:
Moreover, we should continue the dialogue among all of us in the future, as we take the necessary measures at the regional level to continue building up stronger national Air Quality Management programs. At the same time, we should initiate technical cooperation on Air Quality Management modelling and Cross-Country Air Quality Management, while working gradually to adopt a strategy on collaboration in selected air-sheds and finally set common South Asia Regional Ambient Air Quality Standards.
At the SACEP, we are mandated and committed to giving our member-states the support they need. But I wish to note that it is only with the collaborative and co-operative efforts of our member-states and the donor community that can we implement the necessary measures to free South Asia from air pollution and its impact on health.
SACEP is very pleased to have organized this regional workshop in collaboration with our valuable partner World Bank. So, I would like thank all our colleagues at the SACEP and the World Bank, who have worked hard to make our meeting possible today. We look forward to our continued partnership in the future.
And more importantly, on behalf of SACEP and the World Bank, I wish to thank all the delegates, who are here representing the leadership of our member-states. Your cooperation and active participation in the discussions have enabled us to conduct this fruitful workshop today, which generated adequate discussion for the steps and policies we need to adopt to address the crisis of air pollution and its impact on health in South Asia as a very vulnerable region to climate change.
Indeed, the commitments we have made today will help change for the better the lives of over a billion people in South Asia, and I hope that what you have learned from today’s workshop will help you in achieving your national goals and our shared objectives as a region.
Finally, let us all go away from here keeping in mind that the best way to combat air pollution is to work together and together can we make it a reality for everyone to breathe clean air free from all pollutants.