Asia and the Pacific face daunting environmental challenges that require an urgent international response, according to a just-released report by the United Nations regional commission.
The State of the Environment Report in Asia and the Pacific warns that urbanization, land degradation and deteriorating water quality are among the problems plaguing the region, which has seen its urban population double over the past 20 years.
"Is Asia heading for another crisis - an environmental crisis? The alarm bells are already sounding, calling for urgent attention of the international community," said Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which produced the report.
"ESCAP's message is a call for immediate action - action that must involve all stakeholders otherwise the environment will to continue to deteriorate further at a catastrophic rate," he warned at the report's launch in Bangkok on Tuesday.
The Asian financial crisis adversely affected the region's environment, according to the report. In many countries, environmental budgets have been reduced, leading to fewer investments in the conservation of resources, mitigation of environmental degradation and the development of clean technologies.
The region is paying a high price for its environmental problems, ESCAP says. Land degradation and desertification - both on the increase - are causing annual losses estimated at $10 billion in South Asia and $700 million in North-East Asia. In Central Asian countries the losses amount to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Overall, almost 500 million Asians have been affected by desertification.
Pointing out that "funding is the key to confronting these enormous environmental challenges," the report estimates that providing the region with environmental infrastructure and utilities such as water supply, sanitation, energy and transport in urban areas alone will cost around $10 trillion in the next 25-30 years.
Mr. Kim observed that the environment of the Asia-Pacific region had deteriorated since the 1992 "Earth Summit" held in Rio de Janeiro. "This is the major challenge confronting us in the new millennium, which must be squarely addressed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year," he said.