Border Air Pollution/World Bank

Program 0108 February 20, 2001

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

VERONICA CARBABAL: In terms of building more roads, well, perhaps we shouldn’t be building more roads and focusing on what we have and maximizing the use of what we have instead of encouraging the use of private vehicles.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the environmental consequences of economic growth. Plus, the World Bank fights poverty.

NORA LUSTIG: Economic progress, particularly in the last 30, 40 years, has definitely resulted in reductions in poverty in not only income poverty, but the other dimensions. I mean, there have been great improvements in health in the last 30 years that are undeniable. But there are many setbacks.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Enormous growth along the US-Mexico border is reaping a harvest of environmental problems. One of the most serious challenges stems from air pollution.

MCHUGH: But in the border area of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico, an innovative bi-national partnership is emerging to tackle an environmental hazard that respects no boundaries. Common Ground Correspondent Kent Patterson reports on the prospects and obstacles confronting the movement.

[sounds of truck traffic]

KENT PATTERSON: Trucks descending from a bridge that connects Mexico with the United States rumble through an El Paso intersection. Since the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, the number of trucks carrying manufactured products from Mexico into the US has soared. In the wake of this expanded commerce, more and more people are moving to the border. According to the nonprofit Rio Grande Rio Bravo Basin Coalition, the population of the border region on both sides of the Texas-Mexico line is expected to increase 50 percent during the next 20 years. In Ciudad, Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River, thousands of new workers provide the cheap labor for the foreign-owned export plants. But the boom carries with it an ecological price: air pollution.

ANNOUNCER ON AN EDUCATIONAL VIDEO: Air pollution causes a wide variety of health effects that range from eye irritation to heart and lung damage.

PATTERSON: An educational video plays inside the El Paso, Texas offices of the nonprofit Paso Del Norte Clean Cities Coalition. The video warns about the dangers of ozone, one of the most persistent pollutants afflicting the twin cities of El Paso and Ciudad, Juarez. Especially hazardous to people with asthma, ozone levels in El Paso exceeded the national standard four times this year compared to two times in 1999.

ANNOUNCER ON AN EDUCATIONAL VIDEO: There are four major areas in the state of Texas which exceed ozone levels as set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, El Paso is one of them….

PATTERSON: Together with other groups, the Clean Cities Coalition works in both El Paso and Ciudad, Juarez, to increase public awareness of air pollution issues.

[A man speaks in Spanish.]

PATTERSON: On a regular basis the Clean Cities Coalition participates in the meetings of the bi-national Joint Advisory Committee for the Improvement of Air Quality in the Paso Del Norte Air Basin. The JAC, established in 1996 under the La Paz agreement between Mexico and the United States, brings together non-governmental and governmental organizations from Texas, New Mexico, and the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. It is a unique bi-national approach towards solving an environmental problem that cuts across national boundaries. Veronica Carbabal, an organizer for the Clean Cities Coalition, runs down some of the challenges.

VERONICA CARBABAL: One is the incredible growth that we’ve seen in this area. And I’ve just seen incredible growth both in El Paso and Juarez, but mostly in Juarez because of the maquiladora industry. A lot of people have been pulled up north. And we’re finding that, that of course, places a lot of strains on the infrastructure of a community such as Juarez. So you find a lot of colonias, a lot of areas that are on the fringe of the city, people who don’t have access to a lot of the services that the more established communities have access to. So again, what that implies is unpaved roads. It implies people having to burn their trash if there is no regular pickup. There’s also the burning of trash because people are accustomed to do so in certain parts of southern Mexico, or the communities they were coming from, etc. So you find its hard to get a sense of how you can grapple with certain issues when a city seems to be always in constant change and constant movement. And the issues seem to get more and more complicated.

What the maquila industry has also done is increase transportation to and through our cities. And so what the Clean Cities Coalition is also focusing on is all this heavy-duty traffic. And by heavy duty I mean the semis, the semi-trucks that come through our cities that transfer all kinds of materials, whether it be hazardous materials from maquilas, or whether it be raw material, etc. And the trucks go both ways. And a lot of them, most of all, I think all of them, are diesel, diesel trucks. And again, that exacerbates our air quality problems, not only with PM, but also the fact that particulate matter that comes from diesel leads to formation of ozone, for example.

[A man speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: In the Paso Del Norte Air Basin air pollution originates from both sides of the border. Take for example the used auto business. Under NAFTA, Mexican workers were supposed to see their wages increase and be able to afford goods produced in the US, thus creating jobs in this country. But instead of purchasing Detroit’s latest fuel-efficient vehicles, Mexican consumers are buying thousands of used North American cars and millions of used tires. Mexican environmental authorities blame the second-hand tires for releasing contaminants in Ciudad, Juarez, during numerous fires.

ALMA FIGUEROA [sic] [speaks in Spanish]

PATTERSON: Alma Figueroa heads up the Ecology Department for the City of Juarez.

ALMA FIGUEROA [sic] [via a translator] The vehicles are sold for a very cheap price in Mexico and they pollute a lot. Another problem comes from the used tires that come from the United States and enter Mexico at a very low price. They are also another important source of pollution. We all want our air quality to be clean, without particulates, ozone in summer, or carbon monoxide in winter. There should be a clean vehicle fleet with good fuel.

[sound of vehicles, an unusual high-pitched whine]

PATTERSON: Increasingly, the use of clean-fuel vehicles, like these natural gas-operated buses, is becoming more popular in El Paso and Ciudad, Juarez. Those cities currently use alternative-fuel vehicles for their public transportation systems. Carlin Bennett is the Director of the Clean Cities Coalition.

CARLIN BENNETT: Fortunately, on the border our Mexican counterparts have always been more progressive in terms of their utilization of alternative fuels. And there is one primary motivator for that decision, and that is, that is economics. The majority-Juarez has thousands of buses. It’s a very large city. People rely far more heavily on public transit in Ciudad, Juarez, than they do in El Paso. Or, in just about any other community in the United States.

[A crowd of people chatting]

PATTERSON: During their quarterly meetings, JAC members trade experiences, analyze air quality monitoring data, and try to devise joint strategies for cleaner air. Bill Luthans, a US Environmental Protection Agency administrator in Dallas, co-chairs the JAC. Luthans says the group is having an impact.

BILL LUTHANS: I mean, obviously, one of them is improving communication and partnership. One of the things that you saw today, for example, when there was a presentation of air quality data, is that when we started we were really coming from almost two different worlds. Looking at data different ways, looking at different standards, and we’ve brought that together. So we’re talking more and more about a common language that allows us to address the air problems in this area from a common air shed standpoint instead of from two or three different approaches, depending on whether you’re looking at it from a federal government or a state government point of view. There’s some projects that we’ve picked up. Some of them were not necessarily created just here, but we’ve increased the movement forward on those things, like helping to develop improved commuter lanes so that there’s less time that cars are spent idling and creating air emissions at the border. And you know, trying to push for cleaner fuels in the wintertime in Juarez to help bring down carbon monoxide levels. So there’s been some specific projects that we’ve had a role in that other people have also participated in, but we’ve had a role in bringing those forward.

PATTERSON: Both the United States and Mexico are getting new federal administrations. So the question is whether the JAC, developed and strengthened during the Clinton and Zadillo administrations in Washington and Mexico City, will remain a part of new border policy agendas. The EPA’s Bill Luthans, says the local members of the JAC will continue playing a pivotal role in keeping alive the bi-national effort.

LUTHANS: We’ve got a partnership here that involves all three levels of government: federal, state, and local. But, and we’re gonna be going through changes in both the Mexican and the United States federal administrations. We’re gonna get new policies, we’re gonna get new guidance, we’re gonna get new strategic visions. But, when you look at a problem like air quality problem in this area, the impetus for improvement and for coming up with ideas to bring about better air quality and stuff is going to be largely driven at the local level, with the local and state governments. So the only thing I was trying to say is that while we’ll be going through some changes at the federal government, the work of this committee, at the local level, is going to continue to be very important to keep progress moving with improving air quality in the area. That the big goal of changing air quality isn’t going to change, and that what the local and state governments are gonna do is gonna continue to be largely unchanged. And that will be the main thrust of bringing about those changes.

PATTERSON: Spurred on by increasing NAFTA-related trade and population growth, air quality in the US-Mexico border region will be one of the most pressing environmental issues during the coming years. Veronica Carbabal, of the Paso Del Norte Clean Cities Coalition, says issues of growth and healthy air quality can’t be separated.

VERONICA CARBABAL: The more you get into it the more you see how complicated these issues are and the fact that they transcend merely social issues, but they, you know, you get into economic issues, political issues. And it’s hard to really give a diagnosis or a prognosis of how the air quality is going to improve or not improve. I think for a lot of different groups the key lies in our message to the community about the health issues and the health implications of not doing something. It’s been said that Texans love their cars. It’s been said that, you know, people are not gonna get on the bus, for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps the service isn’t up to par. And because of other social perceptions, etc., of public transit. Well, there are different ways of getting to that, or getting through that. One of them, of course, is improving the service of the public transit companies. But another is also, in a sense, limiting how much, for example for the US side, limiting how much growth really happens. In terms of building more roads, well perhaps we shouldn’t be building more roads, and focusing on what we have and maximizing the use of what we have instead of encouraging the use of private vehicles.

[sound of heavy truck traffic]

PATTERSON: It remains to be seen whether new air pollution control strategies will be effective, considering the predicted growth of the US-Mexico border region. Already, there are indications that some clean air goals are losing out to spiraling development. For instance, during the first 10 months of this year, authorities in El Paso-Juarez declared 42 ozone action days, warning the public on both sides of the border about possible health risks. In 1999, there were only 14 such days. Meanwhile, the path charted by the JAC is attracting attention among other organizations and agencies involved in clean air issues. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Patterson reporting.

MCHUGH: The World Bank tackles poverty, next on Common Ground.

NORA LUSTIG: Poverty, in all its dimensions in the world, are associated with these major systemic events. And that if you can devote efforts to reduce their occurrence, you’re gonna gain a lot in terms of reducing the amount of people who live in poverty.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: Today, nearly half of the world’s population lives in poverty. This is according to the World Bank’s recent World Development Report, attacking poverty.

PORTER: Nora Lustig is one of the authors of this report. Common Ground’s Hélène Papper recently spoke with Lustig about the report and the prospects for reversing this global problem.

NORA LUSTIG: The World Bank has been doing a report that focuses on poverty every 10 years, starting in 1980.

HÉLÈNE PAPPER: You define poverty in your report as a person whose daily earnings are under one dollar a day. Why is a dollar a day the poverty threshold?

LUSTIG: Well, actually the definition of poverty in the report is not just based on income. One important contribution of this report is to reconfirm the fact that poverty is multidimensional. That it expresses itself as the fact that you don’t have a lot of things in the material sense, meaning low income, low consumption. That you may have low education and low health. And also two other dimensions that were explored very little in the past, or much less in the past that form part of the notion of poverty, which is vulnerability, insecurity vis-à-vis the future, and voicelessness and powerlessness. The inability of people to affect the decisions that have an important bearing on their lives. So this report doesn’t take a one-dimensional approach to poverty. And that in order to address it you need to address all its dimensions to really make a dent on what the experience in poverty, living in poverty, means.

Now, going specifically to your question about the threshold of a dollar a day, that’s a question that’s recurrently put to people who look at the report. And I think the dollar-a-day threshold is there only to make comparisons among countries. It’s a threshold that has been used by the World Bank now for more than 15 years, which allows comparisons over time and across countries. It’s a threshold which is, reflects more, sort of vividly, what is the poverty line that would have to apply to countries that are very poor. For international comparisons you want to use one benchmark, and the one that has been more commonly [used] is this dollar a day.

PAPPER: But does that benchmark really mean something? I mean, a dollar day is very low. And statistics are so important. And that number is used. If these people start earning slightly over a dollar-$1.10, $1.20, even $2.00-does that mean that they’re not going to be included in next year’s poverty statistics?

LUSTIG: Well, they would not appear if you just focus on the proportion, on the number of people that live below one dollar a day. But they will appear if you look at poverty in this multidimensional setting, where the people that live above a dollar a day may still be very vulnerable to adverse situations, may still be powerless and voiceless, may still have low human development in the sense of education and health. And they will also appear if you consider that in specific countries the poverty line has to be much higher than a dollar a day. But for the, if you want to compare, the international comparisons and the publication of the data on a dollar a day, they will not appear as part of the numbers. But they will, the numbers in poverty are much higher if you define it in this multinational setting, than this number for, given for a dollar a day.

PAPPER: A quote from your report: "Enhancing security by reducing such events as war, disease, economic crisis, and natural disasters, is the key to reducing poverty." That’s a big task you’re setting for yourselves. How would you go about this?

LUSTIG: Yeah. I mean it is a big task, but I think the message there is that a lot of the things that have been the causes of major upsurges in poverty in all its dimensions in the world, are associated with these major systemic events. And that if you can devote efforts to reduce their occurrence, you’re gonna gain a lot in terms of reducing the amount of people who live in poverty. Each one will require different things. When you’re talking about economic crises, then of course, one important, very important component of that is that countries need to have sound policies which can go from having healthy, prudent financial systems to avoid fiscal overruns, to have budgets that the government can keep on track. It also entails from the part of the multilateral institutions to be able to, for example, to provide the necessary liquidity, the necessary loans, when countries are hit by contagion, to make that crisis much, not happen. Or if it happens, to make it much milder than it would have been.

So that’s one set of policies. In terms of natural disasters, I mean natural hazards are likely to continue to occur. We cannot control them. They are in general beyond us. But we can do a lot preventing from, those natural hazards to become disasters. By building up dams, by building up earthquake-proof buildings, by relocating people who are living in vulnerable areas. There is a number of initiatives that you can take to avert situations that are disastrous from the natural point of view.

PAPPER: There’s been incidences of development banks such as the World Bank going into countries to help. And you mentioned earlier, setting up dams. On one side you’re trying to bring in modernization and on the other it may not fit in their lifestyle.

LUSTIG: All I can say is that the report sends a message that it’s very important to assess the implications of the changes that involve modernization. And if there are losers, and the losers are poor, you have to have in place compensatory mechanisms to make sure that they don’t fall into deeper poverty. And provide them with alternative opportunities so they don’t fall into deeper poverty. That is a message that the report says explicitly.

PAPPER: How do you go about that?

LUSTIG: Well, I think the first important thing is whenever there is a change that is going to be introduced, the question to be asked is well, you know, are people going to be hurt by this? And you have to gather the information both sometimes through surveys that are, you know, surveys that are statistical surveys, but also by listening to the stakeholders that will be affected by changes to find out what are the benefits and what are the problems that the project that you are trying to set in motion will bring about. So that the winners are able to reap the benefits of the changes, but also not at the expense of the losers, particularly if the losers are poor.

PAPPER: Let’s take a look again at the report. There are three words that come up a lot in this report: empowerment, opportunity, and security. Can you give me some details about these words and why they’re used in this particular report?

LUSTIG: In the area of opportunity we have, of course, the usual conception that it is very important to generate opportunities overall in an economy through economic growth. But that in order for this growth to translate itself into greater benefits more quickly for the poorest segments of the population, you may need to have actions that specifically will do that. We think that one important thing that needs to be done in order to accelerate the benefits for poor people is find ways in which you can expand their assets. All sort of assets-human, physical, natural.

Another important agenda under the opportunity agenda, or the opportunity recommendations, is reforms at the very micro level could help poor and small producers benefit from market opportunities.

Under the empowerment agenda what we have identified is that it is very important that you make both state and social institutions more accountable and responsive to poor people.

You wanted to know about security. The poor feel very strongly that vulnerability is a source of ill-being. So if you could have mechanisms that reduce sources of insecurity, which, the ones that we discussed earlier in terms of natural disasters, crises, wars-those are systemic but also insecurity at a more individual level or community level, like harvest failures or unemployment or ill health, that would be an enormous benefit to poor people.

PAPPER: You address inequalities as another way to combat poverty. It seems to be a focal point in your report, be it gender inequalities or wage gaps. How do you propose to address and influence these issues?

LUSTIG: Well, I think the report does one important thing. I think it’s putting inequality at the top of the agenda as much as a source of poverty, as a source of, as also an impediment to really attack poverty. And that depending on the sources of these inequalities, there is gonna have to be different initiatives. In the case of, for example, what you mentioned, the wage gap between skilled and unskilled workers, clearly what needs to be done is to invest decisively on improving the skills of those who are unskilled. So that you increase their likelihood of more of the, those who are poor today, to participate in the labor market with greater benefits.

In the case of things that have to do with gender inequities and or racial or ethnic inequities, you may have to do things in many dimensions, from the legal to the moral dimension, in terms of how people reproduce certain behaviors that perpetrate inequities.

PAPPER: Do you feel that poverty is decreasing? You talk about helping them bridge the gap and helping reduce poverty. But this has been an ongoing process. This isn’t just from this report, that all of a sudden we’re going to help the poor. Has there been an improvement in the past 10, 20, 30 years that the World Bank has been working on this?

LUSTIG: Yes. I mean, economic progress in the, particularly in the last 30, 40 years, has definitely resulted in reductions in poverty in not only income poverty, but the other dimensions. I mean, there have been great improvements in health in the last 30 years that are undeniable. But there are many setbacks. And one of them is the one I mentioned earlier about HIV/AIDS. The second thing is that we would see much more progress if we could have sustainable growth over time. And unfortunately, for example, during the ’80s and the ’90s the world has been subject to many situations of economic crisis, the developing world, of economic crises, or other forms of shocks such as conflicts and wars. So these setbacks have meant that the progress in terms of poverty reduction has been lower than we would have liked it to be.

PAPPER: Now that this World Development Report is done, it’s written, what are your hopes, realistic hopes, in terms of implementation of the diagnostic of this report?

LUSTIG: I am fairly optimistic. I think that it’s an eye-opener in terms of saying, "Well, there are many areas that before perhaps one hasn’t thought so relevant to focus." And I think this has brought to the fore areas that are very important to pursue at the international, national, and local level by all members of society. It’s going to result in initiatives that may make a difference. I think that also we are in a moment in the world in which the economic outlook is more, it’s brighter than it was before. So the resources are gonna be easy, more easily available than in the past to make a difference. So for both these reasons I am fairly optimistic that this report may, or the recommendations of the report-those that are maybe derived from people who look at the report and find new things, might be implemented, and we’ll be able to see changes in the coming years.

PAPPER: That is Nora Lustig, one of the authors of the World Bank’s World Development Report attacking poverty. For Common Ground, I’m Hélène Papper.

MCHUGH: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0108. That's Program Number 0108. To order by credit card you can call us at 319-264-1500. That's 319-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I'm Kristin McHugh. Hélène Papper is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

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