• None of the countries in the World Bank’s Central Asia region meet the WHO annual safety limits for suspended small particles.
  • In Kazakhstan alone, air pollution contributes to over 6,000 premature deaths and causes estimated economic losses of over US$ 1.3 billion per year.
  • Lilia Burunciuc, the World Bank’s regional Director for Central Asia shares her own experiences of air pollution while living in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
  • The World Bank offers five ways countries in Central Asia can improve air quality, preserve economic gains, and save lives.

For the last five years I have lived and worked in the beautiful city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. On clear days, the city offers a stunning skyline backed by the Tian Shan mountains. But clear days are becoming fewer and farther between. Sadly, these unique views are often obstructed or fully blocked by poisonous smog.

Air pollution is more than just a nuisance. In Kazakhstan alone, it contributes to over 6,000 premature deaths and causes estimated economic losses of over US$ 1.3 billion per year.

Worse, the problem extends throughout the Central Asia region, where none of the countries meets the World Health Organization (WHO) annual safety limits for suspended small particles. You might not guess that in December 2020, Bishkek, in the Kyrgyz Republic, recorded the highest levels of pollution in the world.

The prevalence of air pollution and the damage it causes should spur immediate action. At the World Bank, we have identified at least five ways countries in Central Asia can improve air quality, preserve economic gains, and save lives.

1. Improve air quality monitoring

Not all pollutants are the same. Not all locations are the same. Not all seasons or even days are the same.

Much of the current data represent generalizations: averages over long periods and large geographic areas. Such generalizations do not lead to effective solutions. We need to improve air quality monitoring and management so we can understand the precise concentrations of individual pollutants at specific locations, times of day and seasons.

2. Overhaul industry permits

Environmental permits that set limits on emissions must balance improved air quality with continued economic development across the region. Industrial expansion remains a priority, but it must be conducted in such a way that it fully contributes toward Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development (GRID).

3. Shift to cleaner fuels and technologies step-by-step

Ultimately, Central Asian countries will need to shift to cleaner, more efficient energy sources that reduce pollutants and GHG levels, such as solar and wind. Upfront investments in these technologies can be offset by savings from reduced energy costs over time. Optimizing the performance of existing equipment, introducing improved technology in the near-term, and shifting to cleaner fuels over time are all realistic and affordable steps to take.

4. Incentivize change

The scale of necessary change requires a total transformation for many sectors of industry, entire municipalities, and even within individual households. Governments can help change behavior by using both fiscal incentives — such as green subsidies — and pressures — such as pollutant-linked fines. Policies such as tax rebates or the implementation of Low Emissions Zones – where vehicles meeting higher emission standards pay a lower fee to enter or are the only…

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