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Report Attacks World Bank for Backing Waste Incineration

by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON – In spite of a global treaty that requires countries to minimize the use of waste incinerators that produce toxic pollutants, the World Bank and its affiliates continue to promote projects in developing countries that include incinerators, according to a coalition of international environmental and health groups.

In a report released here Wednesday, the Washington-based Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), a grouping of some 375 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 40 countries, and the Manila-based Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA), charge that the Bank Group has funded or recommended funding at least 156 projects that include incineration, in 68 countries, since 1993.

That was the same year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified incinerators as the country’s primary source of dangerous airborne dioxin and mercury emissions, both of which are highly toxic to humans.

Since 2001, some 26 projects that included incineration components, have gained the Bank Group’s backing, adds the report.

”It’s outrageous that a public institution like the World Bank is using public money to destroy public health,” said Von Hernandez, GAIA co-ordinator in the Philippines. ”The Bank must immediately stop funding incineration.”

The report, ‘Bankrolling Polluting Technology: The World Bank and Incineration’, was released on the eve of this year’s annual meeting here of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where NGOs are expected to turn out in force to urge major reforms in the lending policies of the two international financial institutions (IFIs) affecting a range of issues, from tropical deforestation to privatization.

The new report, based on an analysis of World Bank documents, charges that the Bank is promoting a technology in poor countries that has largely been repudiated, or in some cases banned outright, in developed nations.

The incineration of industrial, health-care, and municipal wastes has become an increasingly contentious health and environmental issue in recent years.

Incinerators produce large quantities of gaseous, solid and sometimes liquid residues that are often contaminated with toxic substances, such as heavy metals, dioxins, furans and other so-called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs.

Dioxins are particularly dangerous. They have been shown to cause a wide range of health problems, including cancer, immune system damage, reproductive and developmental problems. They also ”bio-accumulate” in the fatty tissues of living organisms and are passed up the food chain, especially concentrating in fish, eggs, and diary products, without decomposing.

Governments have increasingly recognized the dangers posed by the production of POPs.

In 2001, nations approved the United Nations Stockholm Convention on POPs, a global treaty that requires participating nations to minimize their production of certain, particularly toxic POPs – including dioxins and furans – and to eventually ban 23 of the most dangerous substances. The same treaty identified incineration as a major source of these chemical compounds.

In wealthy countries, technology has been devised to mitigate – although not eliminate – air pollution caused by incinerators, but its expense is beyond the reach of most poor countries.

”Increasing pollution in regions already suffering from widespread health problems due to by-products of combustion, such as particulates, POPS, and mercury is especially unsustainable and threatening to public health,” the report said.

Poor countries also generally lack the kind of regulatory, environmental, and public-health systems needed to ensure that incinerators are in fact minimizing toxic emissions.

The report stressed that viable alternatives to incineration exist for most hazardous wastes. Health-care waste, for example, is composed primarily of non-infectious waste similar to general municipal waste. Maintaining separate waste streams for potentially infectious and non-infectious material has been shown to be both inexpensive and cost-effective.

In addition, aggressive recycling and compost programs can reduce much municipal waste, while non-burn treatments have been developed for the most hazardous contents. On industrial wastes, the best policies, according to the report, are preventative: reducing or eliminating hazardous industrial inputs.

The report stressed that of the 156 projects backed by the Bank, only three – in Singapore, Mauritius, and South Korea – were primarily concerned with incineration. In the rest, incineration was a secondary or minor aspect of the project.

Of the total projects in which incineration was included, half are in Africa, where Kenya was the global leader with 12; 22 percent in Asia and the Pacific; 19 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean; and 10 percent in Europe.

But almost half of all were concentrated in just 12 countries: Kenya, Brazil, Turkey, India, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, Zambia, China, and Nigeria.

The incineration capacities of these projects vary greatly, the report says, noting that the Singapore incinerator may burn as much waste as all other Bank-backed incinerators combined.

About 50 percent of the projects involve incineration of a wide variety of industrial and manufacturing wastes; about 29 percent handle health-care wastes; and the remainder, general municipal wastes. Twelve of the 19 projects that include municipal waste incineration are related to tourism, including luxury hotels in remote locations.

The World Bank itself established a POPs Unit with the goal of improving ”various operational policies by integrating POPs issues” after the Stockholm Convention was signed.

It also has policies that prevent it from lending to projects that use certain pesticides that are POPs, according to the report. The Bank also supports projects designed to clean up existing POPs stockpiles – such as those abandoned by multinational pesticide companies in Africa – and to help countries move away from reliance on POP-producing technologies.

”It’s particularly hypocritical that the World Bank is seeking funds to clean up POPs problems at the same time that it continues to create new ones,” said Neil Tangri, the report’s author. He cited a 1999 New York Times article that reported that the Bank’s president, James Wolfensohn, personally contributed 50,000 dollars to an effort to prevent the construction of a mixed hazardous waste incinerator at his vacation home in Wyoming.

The report stressed that a number of groups represented by the coalition have tried to engage the World Bank directly on these issues but ”received little constructive response”. Asked about the Bank’s reaction, spokespersons from the Bank and its private-sector affiliate, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) said they had not yet seen the report.

© 2002 lPS


Download PDF : The World Bank Group and Incineration

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