Challenges in decision-making: from barriers to synergies
A healthy environment: luxury or necessity?
“Environment is still perceived by some countries as a luxury. Policymakers in developing countries want more employment, higher income. They tend to say: ‘Don’t come talk to us now. Developed countries have already gone through this process. When we reach a similar stage, we will look at the environment.’ ’’
Director, Economics and Trade Branch, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, UNEP(2).
Policy-makers in the developing world face a range of pressing health impacts from environmentally-related hazards (1,3). And along with the human toll, developing countries bear the economic cost of lost productivity, the burden on the health sector, a burden from degraded resources and long-term social consequences.
At the same time, developing countries are coping with a rapid rate of modernization and change. Environment and health issues, then, need to be high on policy agendas. Development decisions should involve a thorough consideration of issues related to environment and health, ahead of major investments and infrastructure commitments. But that is not always the case. Why?
A HELI review of environment and health decision-making in a developing country context reviewed and analysed the driving forces that shape environment and health policy, synthesizing the results of in-depth interviews with experts and decision-makers, and findings from an extensive literature review. The review concluded that the primary barriers to more effective policy are neither a lack of evidence nor a lack of knowledge. They are economic, institutional, political and social.
Macroeconomic factors such as trade globalization, market liberalization, debt burdens and structural adjustment policies are among the most powerful drivers of national political agendas and, indirectly, environment and health policies.
Environmental hazards, which may be unseen and/or emerge slowly over time, also compete as policy priorities with social, political, economic and humanitarian crises - some of which may be related to long-neglected environmental problems (e.g. floods and epidemics or drought and famine).
The hidden hazards posed by hasty and improperly conceived projects may be overlooked; better environmental management may be regarded as a luxury that developing countries cannot afford. The goods and services provided by bio-diverse ecosystems, upon which particularly the poor may rely for healthy livelihoods, are not meaningfully taken into account within market-driven development processes. This leads to continued degradation of those natural resources with resulting health impacts (5).