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Developed countries exporting pollution to developing countries in several ways

By Bharat Dogra 

It is well-known that life-styles in developed and rich countries are much more burdensome for environment compared to normal life-patterns in developing countries. However due to more power and resources, the developed countries are in a position to shift the burden of this on developing countries in several ways. The World Resources Report has stated, “The OECD countries and their industrial economies are directly responsible for many kinds of environmental stress – local, regional and global. In addition because they not only are heavy consumers of natural resources from developing countries but also tend to shift their pollution - intensive industries to those countries, the OECD countries also contribute indirectly to environmental stresses in developing regions.”
Some years back a senior official of the World Bank Mr. Lawrence Summers had argued in an internal memo that there are many economic and social reasons to justify the shift of dirty industries from North to South. Given such attitudes, it is not surprising that taking advantage of the pressing economic needs of developing countries or the willingness of local elites to collude with developed countries, several highly polluting industries have been increasingly shifted to developing countries. So even as life-styles of developed countries continue to be as burdensome for environment and as pollution-intensive as before, if not even more so, an outward façade of cleaner environment is created as several polluting activities needed for this have been shifted to developing countries, or the excessive waste generated as a result of this life style has been shifted there.
So when pollution levels are calculated in GHG emissions and in other ways, a significant share of what is counted as the contribution of developing countries may be actually for supporting the life-patterns and excessive consumption of developed countries. An important question arises regarding the extent of which this is taken care of in various calculations relating to pollution and emission. Several multinational companies with their base in developed countries extend their businesses to developing countries in such a way that labor-intensive and less fossil fuel-intensive work is replaced by capital intensive and energy-guzzling technologies. Who is responsible for the resulting rise in emissions? Agriculture, the most important livelihood, was a least polluting activity before the advent of the green revolution in India and several other developing countries, but the advent, spread and continuing intensification of the green revolution, imposed by developed countries and their multinational companies with the help of local colluding elites turned this steadily into a more and more polluting activity. Now with the terrible pressure from developed countries and their multinational companies to force GM crops on developing countries, the environmental destruction to farming system will become more acute in several developing countries (including India, if the ongoing resistance is unable to match the determination of the union government and colluding elites to bring in more and more GM crops.).
In some cases such extremely hazardous technologies and products, discarded in host countries, have been exported to developing countries that tens of thousands of people have died over a period of several years while even a much larger number of people have suffered from very painful diseases, injuries, birth-defects and various medical conditions. The Bhopal gas catastrophe is a shocking example of this, continuing to cause such extreme distress even after 38 years, and there are several other examples of such disasters.
While herbicides used with GM crops are being exposed for their serious health hazards in several developed countries and even damages amounting to millions of dollars have been paid in legal cases relating to these, these are being shamelessly spread more and more in several developing countries with the collusion of local powerful elites.
The shockingly unethical practices in hazardous wastes dumping have been receiving the support of many governments of developed countries in many open or hidden ways. Staring with 1989 the large scale dumping of industrial, medical and even nuclear wastes from some European countries, particularly Italy, to Somalia’s coastal areas continued for several years, bringing very serious health hazards for a very large number of people. This was hardly the only dumping of toxic wastes. In fact there are several indications that around the year 1988 or so, the hidden or open export of more or less toxic wastes increased in significant ways at several points, mostly involving export from developed to developing countries, or from rich to poor countries.
The Third World Network said in an ‘Alert for Action’ release dated August 5, 1988: “In recent years, industrialized countries have been trying hard to export their toxic waste to Third World countries. South and Central America have received toxic waste in the past, and now African countries have been offered foreign cash to accept toxic waste. Shipments of toxic waste have been sent out to be deposited in Third World countries.”
Even when wastes exported have been not exactly toxic in a very serious sense, these add to landfill sites in developing countries and ultimately to increase of methane emissions in many cases, which can be 20 times more harmful for climate change compared to carbon dioxide emissions over a period of 20 years.
All these aspects of pollution export should be taken up in a comprehensive way by developing countries and their organizations so that their full costs are realized and continuing, united efforts are made to minimize these risks and hazards for the people of developing countries.
The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071



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