Green Data Book Offers Factual Basis for Sustainable Development

NEW YORK, New York, April 21, 2005 (ENS) - Better environmental management can improve people’s livelihoods, health, and security now and in the future, but sound management depends upon accurate, timely information. The latest environmental information for 200 countries was presented Tuesday at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development meeting in the form of "The Little Green Data Book 2005," a joint product of the World Bank's Development Data Group and Environment Department.

This year’s edition of the "Little Green Data Book" includes new indicators for fish catch, in the agriculture and fisheries section, and biomass fuel use, in the energy section.

The book tells the world's environmental story by the numbers - page after page of tables and lists of numbers - but once the numbers are deciphered trends become clear.

The Commission on Sustainable Development continued its focus on water, sanitation and housing as the high-level segment of the two week meeting opened Wednesday with an address by UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette.

She urged the assembled ministers to push harder for poor countries struggling to meet internationally agreed target dates for clean water, basic sanitation and decent housing.

"It would be tragic and shameful if, come 2015, we find ourselves scrambling to explain our failure," she said.


UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette addresses the 13th meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development at UN Headquarters in New York. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Speaking later Wednesday at a working luncheon, Fréchette said the upcoming September review of the UN Millennium Declaration would not be credible or complete if it did not address climate change, loss of biodiversity and other issues that were at the heart of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Without conservation of water and proper management of water resources, food production could plummet, jeopardizing the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who suffer from extreme hunger, she said.

Without convenient access to water, girls would find little respite from spending hours every day fetching that vital resource, and would have little time for education, the focus of another key development goal. And if the squalor of slum life could not be relieved, already overcrowded cities would become more poverty and disease-ridden.

The "Little Green Data Book" shows that use of wood and other biomass fuels in poor countries result in the high health risks, exceeded only by the lack of clean water and sanitation. Wood fuels are the primary source of energy for about two billion out of the world's 6.2 billion people. Indoor smoke from burning solid biomass is associated with respiratory problems, and most of the victims are infants, children, and women from poor rural families.

Acute respiratory infections in children and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in women are common in poor countries.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation in poor countries, as well as increased population pressures in urban areas and the other most serious environmental causes of illness and death, the data shows.

Indoor smoke accounts for 3.6 percent of the burden of disease in developing countries with high mortality, following the lack of water supply and sanitation, which accounts for 5.5 percent of death and illness.


In Ghana, a woman cooks on a traditional stove made from three large stones, which has high fuel consumption and uncontrolled fire and smoke. (Photo by P. Cenini courtesy FAO)
The health impact of woody biomass use can be minimized through the use of dry biomass fuels, efficient cookstoves, better kitchen practices and chimneys. Wood fuel harvesting can be made sustainable and can continue to support the livelihoods of the many rural poor engaged in its harvesting, transport and sale. Although deforestation is commonly assumed to be the result of wood fuel harvesting in most regions, the major cause is land clearing for agricultural expansion.

The data shows very little progress in the past 10 years. In low and middle income countries, the use of solid biomass and biomass wastes as a percent of total energy use has gone from 54 percent in 1992 to 49 percent in 2002.

"Environmental factors are often the invisible killers' of the poor," said World Bank Environment Director Warren Evans. "Reducing environmental risks will require new investments and significant policy and institutional reforms. Timely, accurate data are key to making decisions on environmental health."

In 2002, the latest year for which figures are supplied, about 2.85 billion of the world's people, or 46 percent, lacked access to basic sanitation, according to the World Health Organization.

These conditions are most prevalent in East Asia and South Asia where almost one billion people are lacking basic sanitation in each region. Almost 500 million people lack access to basic sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Jamal Saghir, World Bank director for energy and water, said, "Meeting the sanitation needs of the world requires a concerted and urgent effort. Households need a range of options. Even basic facilities at low cost are key for providing dignity to people, and for reducing the environmental squalor around their homes and communities."

"The World Bank supports countries to roll out large scale sanitation programs with the involvement of local governments, communities and the domestic private sector," said Saghir. "These sanitation programs are complemented by hygiene behavior change campaigns. We collectively need to scale up these efforts."

Providing toilets and other hardware is important, but hygiene education to get people to wash their hands with soap is equally important for health.


Children are healthier when they learn to wash their hands. (Photo courtesy World Health Organization)
Lack of access to sanitation puts children under five at the greatest risk. "Globally the proportion of all deaths due to diarrhea among all children under five years of age is 18 percent. This is equivalent to one child dying every fifteen seconds. Diarrhea accounts for about a third of total child deaths under the age of five in developing countries," the World Bank reports.

If current trends continue, the developing world is not going to be able to achieve in 2015 the United Nations target of reducing by half the number of people without access to basic sanitation.

More than 50 countries in the developing world are off track and urgent action is needed to reverse this trend

Meeting the water supply and sanitation target will require doubling annual investment from US$15 to US$30 billion a year, the figures show. Most of the increase is required for sanitation, but policy and institutional reform are required as well, the World Bank said in its data book.

In addition, there are all kinds of interesting facts in the "Little Green Data Book."

There are 394 mammal species in Brazil and 81 of them are considered threatened with extinction, the data book shows. By contrast in Zimbabwe, there are 270 mammal species and none of them are listed as threatened. In Spain, 92 species of mammals exist, and more than a quarter of them, 24, are threatened. In the United States, there are 428 species of mammals, and 37 are listed as threatened.

Population figures are easily found. In the United States, there are 290 million people as compared to 190 million people in Russia, the data book shows.

Between 2002 and 2003, the world's urban population increased by 27 million, an amount bigger than the size of Mexico City. Urbanization is greatest in Latin America, where the urban population is 77 percent of the total.

But the largest rate of growth has taken place in East Asia and the Pacific, with an increase of 0.89 percent, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an increase of 0.67 percent.

Eric Swanson, program manager in the World Bank's Development Data Group, said, "The key to good decision making is having good information. We produce the 'Little Green Data Book' because the indicators help us better understand the world we live in, the benefits we derive from its resources, and how our actions affect the world."