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Chapter Three: Policy Responses - West Asia

Economic instruments

West Asian countries generally rely far more on regulatory mechanisms than market forces. However, most states levy some charges and fees for environment-related services. Because of other socio-economic priorities, only a portion of the revenue raised is used to finance environmental protection schemes. The use of economic and financial instruments to control and prevent pollution through incentives and disincentives is rare. Soft loans are used in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Syria and the United Arab Emirates to encourage water-saving irrigation techniques and the use of tunnels and greenhouses to improve water productivity.

Where the polluter pays principle is applied, it is usually in the form of rather trivial fees levied for emitting polluting discharges of specified levels. These are difficult to collect because of the rather weak institutional framework for monitoring and enforcement. Other economic instruments, such as taxation for air pollution and levies on municipal services operations, are also widely applied. While the levies are relatively easy to collect, air pollution taxes require frequent and continuous sophisticated monitoring, which is seldom in place. Some countries (such as Oman) have initiated self-monitoring schemes but these are still at an early stage.

Resource conservation is practised through the pricing of some scarce resources, particularly water. Previous policies of state subsidy for water prices are changing. Pricing structures are generally applied to domestic and industrial water use as a rational instrument to control wasteful use. However, the pricing policy adopted still involves heavy subsidies in most countries. Furthermore, water used for irrigation, by far the largest category of water use, is either free or heavily subsidized (AOAD 1995).

The general trend over the past ten years has been towards liberalization and privatization of the economy. The growing role of the private sector and the reduction or removal of subsidies on a number of commodities, including pesticides and fertilizers, have helped reduce soil and water contamination. Relaxing strict price controls, including prices of agricultural products, can have a positive effect on agricultural output and food security. Future economic development, and increasing the role of the private sector, will undoubtedly have environmental effects but these may or may not be beneficial. The full impact of adopting market economics has yet to be clarified. The region is beginning to look into these issues but there are no clear indicators of the way policies may develop to deal with the myriad problems of a region in which the public sector is prominent in rich as well as less rich states.


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