Economic assessment

Economic assessment illustration
Rob Barnes 2004

Using numbers for sensible policy

Optimizing use of limited resources is one of the biggest challenges facing any decision-maker. Economic assessment is therefore a vital tool. It can enumerate the potential costs and value the anticipated benefits of a proposed programme, policy or regulatory initiative, and reflect trade-offs inherent in alternatives.

There is increasing recognition that environment and health impacts often require valuation in economic terms in order to receive adequate consideration in policy. An integrated economic analysis of such impacts can capture the hidden costs and benefits of policy options, as well as the synergies and institutional economies of scale that may be achieved through complementary policies that support sustainable development.

For instance, the economic benefits to be derived from sustainable forestry practices may be considerable when impacts are analysed as part of a comprehensive policy package; this would relate not only to issues of employment and poverty reduction, but also to the long-term environmental and economic impacts of forest maintenance or depletion, as well as to the health costs of diseases associated with deforestation.

A key element of the HELI tool kit, therefore, is a review of issues related to the economic assessment of linked environment and health impacts, as well as guidance for conducting such assessments. The HELI exercise builds upon UNEP and WHO’s ongoing work on methods for quantifying the environmental impacts of a particular policy, on the one hand, and population health impacts (burden of disease) on the other. Guidance for estimating the burden of disease from environmental risks such as air pollution, poor water and sanitation, etc. is available here through the section on scientific assessment tools.

Linking impact assessment and economic valuation

Some impacts of a policy on environment, health and human well-being cannot, however, be quantified or valued in terms of money or numbers. In many developing countries basic environment and health data may be missing or incomplete, making quantitative assessment a difficult task from the outset. Social values and perceptions of risk and well-being also influence the manner in which many stakeholders assess the potential impacts of a policy. Along with the review of economic valuation methods, as such, guidance is provided on the linked use of tools for impact assessment and economic analysis.

"The political agenda in our country is called the ‘economic catching up process.’ This causes a significant bias towards short-term economic interests rather than long-term development. In this situation, the only successful way to promote healthy public policy is to show how the economy can gain from protecting health and environment.”

–Economist and research coordinator, Health Systems Research Institute, Thailand


Health and Environment: Managing the Linkages for Sustainable Development

Ecosystems and human well-being: Health synthesis

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Health/environment journals on line





Health & environment: tools for effective decision-making

Health & environment: tools for effective decision-making

The WHO-UNEP Health and Environment Linkages Initiative (HELI): Review of initial findings

Information package in environmental and occupational health

Information package in environmental and occupational health