Reducing Pollution

October 3, 2016

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Industrialization and urbanization have intensified environmental health risks and pollution, especially in developing countries. Household and ambient air pollution, lead poisoning, inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and hazardous wastes cause debilitating and fatal illnesses, create harmful living conditions, and destroy ecosystems. Pollution stunts economic growth and exacerbates poverty and uneven income distribution in both urban and rural areas. Poor people, who can’t afford to protect themselves from the negative impacts of pollution, end up suffering the most.

According to estimates developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 12.6 million people died from environmental health risks in 2012. Air pollution has become the fourth risk factor for premature deaths, just behind tobacco smoking. While the challenge of pollution is a global one, the impacts are overwhelmingly felt in developing countries. About 95 percent of adults and children impacted by pollution-related illnesses live in low and middle-income countries.

According to a joint World Bank- IHME report, the economic burden of air pollution associated with premature deaths amounted to $225 billion in lost labor income or more than $5 trillion in welfare losses worldwide in 2013.  Individual country studies, for Argentina, Colombia, China, Mexico, Pakistan, and Peru, suggest that the costs of pollution related disease could increase the costs of air pollution damages by 14 – 50 percent.

It is critical to address pollution because of its unacceptable toll on health and human capital, as well as associated GDP losses. Pollution management offers no-regrets options to alleviate poverty, boost shared prosperity, and address the vital demands of millions of people for healthier and more productive lives. In addition, pollution management can enhance competitiveness, for example, through job creation, better energy efficiency, improved transport, and sustainable urban and rural development. Pollution management can also make substantial contributions to mitigate climate change through actions such as reducing black carbon emissions, which contribute to both air pollution and global warming.


The World Bank Group works with developing countries and development partners to reduce pollution, implement proper waste management, improve water and air quality, and promote clean development for healthier lives and better economic opportunity.

Between Fiscal Year 2009 and 2016, World Bank commitments (IBRD/IDA) to pollution management and environmental health totaled more than US$ 7 billion.

Recently approved loans, in FY 15 and FY 16, for more than $2.1 billion include projects to improve air quality in China by reducing emissions of specific air pollutants in the province of Hebei and by increasing energy efficiency and clean energy in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. In Colombia a World Bank loan will improve environmental quality by reducing air and water pollution, and improving waste management. In Piaui, Brazil, actions supported by the Bank will improve environmental health, as part of a comprehensive strategy to promote social inclusion and increase the productivity of the rural poor. Another recently approved projects will address water pollution in Lebanon. In Mexico City, Mexico, Santiago, Chile, and Bangkok, Thailand, policies aimed at reducing pollution have produced tangible health benefits for people of all backgrounds.

In 2014, the World Bank established a Multi-donor Trust Fund for Pollution Management and Environmental Health (PMEH-MDTF) to promote more systematic and effective responses to deadly and costly air pollution in selected low income countries including China, Egypt, India, Nigeria, and South Africa.

The Bank provides technical assistance, financing and knowledge products that cover:

  • improving air quality through the reduction of indoor/outdoor air pollution;
  • improving water quality, both in freshwater and in oceans;
  • reducing lead poisoning;
  • integrated management of waste including hazardous waste management and remediation of contaminated sites;
  • reduction of short lived climate pollutants for climate change mitigation;
  • promoting environmental sustainability through cleaner production and pollution prevention; and 
  • strengthening environmental institutions by helping countries improve environmental governance, regulation and enforcement.


Air pollution

In Bangladesh, the Bank is helping to modernize brick kilns to reduce air pollution, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and increase productivity. Carbon emission reduction credits generated by the project are helping improve working conditions, protect people’s health and provide better pay for workers. 

Through policy-based loans in Peru, the Bank helped improve air quality in the country’s largest cities by reducing the content of sulfur in diesel, converting vehicles so they can run on natural gas instead of other polluting fuels, and setting up a system to ensure that vehicles’ emissions are within permissible limits. The same program also supported the establishment and strengthening of the organizations that are responsible for developing and implementing environmental policies in Peru.

In Morocco, the Bank supported the adoption of policies to reduce the emission of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions by installing energy efficiency requirements in 400,000 m2 of new buildings, supporting the development of energy from renewable sources, and reducing fossil fuel subsidies that primarily benefit high income households and result in overconsumption of polluting fuels. The Bank is also supporting the development of cleaner economic activities, both by reducing pollution from industries and by creating opportunities in environmentally friendly sectors, such as eco-tourism.

In addition the Bank jointly with client countries carries out analytical work to identify environmental priorities for poverty alleviation. Among the analytical work completed recently, the Bank identified policy options to reduce air pollution in urban centers in Pakistan, which is among the most severe in the world.  

More results:

Curbing Air Pollution in Ulaanbaatar

Cleaner Cookstoves for a Healthier Indonesia

Bangladesh Clean Air & Sustainable Environment

Clean Air and Healthy Lungs: Enhancing the World Bank's Approach to Air Quality Management.

Water pollution

The Bank is assisting Argentina with an ambitious integrated plan for the cleanup and sustainable development of the Matanza-Riachuelo River basin. The project will build a large rubbish collector on the left bank of the Riachuelo, which will transport sewage to different treatment plants, thereby avoiding its direct discharge into the river. The project also plans to build an 11.5-kilometer outfall, which leads to Río de la Plata. Additionally, the Integral Sanitation Plan will expand and/or build several treatment plants throughout the basin and construct waterfall aeration stations. These large-scale engineering works are crucial for the health of 7 million people living in the area, of whom at least 10 percent live below the national poverty line.

In China, the Bank helped clean up the Pearl River system in fast growing Guangdong province by expanding waste water treatment capacities of Foshan and Jiangmen to reduce pollution originating from these two municipalities, directly benefiting 1.7 million residents in the project areas. Pollution reduction and water quality improvement in the Pearl River Delta waterways have also contributed to welfare of the people who live downstream of the project area.

In Vietnam the Industrial Pollution Control Program is helping improve compliance with industrial wastewater treatment in four of the most industrialized provinces in the country. To achieve this objective, the World Bank is supporting the Vietnamese government to strengthen environmental policy, monitoring, and enforcement, and is providing funds to construct and expand wastewater treatment infrastructure.

In Romania, under the World Bank-supported Integrated Nutrient Pollution Control Project, rural communities around the country are being equipped with new tractors, bins, and other essential tools needed to improve livestock manure management and prevent nitrates and other dangerous minerals from contaminating Romania’s soil and water supplies.

More results:

Kazakhstan Nura River Cleanup Project

Controlling pollution in Croatia’s Coastal Waters

Wastewater treatment and landfills ease pollution in China’s Yangtze River

Cleaner Production in Pakistan's Leather and Textile Sectors

Cutting Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Integrated Waste Management and Remediation of Hazardous Waste Sites

In Morocco, the World Bank has supported the modernization of waste management, including at sites like Oum Azza, near Rabat, where traditional trash-pickers now operate a recycling collective in improved conditions.

In Africa, a $25 million program has removed over 3,000 tons of obsolete and dangerous pesticides from close to 900 contaminated sites in Ethiopia, Mali, Tanzania, Tunisia and South Africa.

In Belarus, the Bank worked with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection to develop its capacity to treat and dispose of hazardous waste. The Bank supported a massive cleanup operation at the Slonim burial site, which excavated and disposed of up to 1,750 tons of toxic obsolete pesticides.

More results:

Cleaning up Uranium in Argentina

Ridding Moldova of Toxic Chemicals

Kazakhstan Kamenogorsk Environmental Remediation

Montenegro Industrial Waste Management

Last Updated: Dec 20,2016