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In His Own Words:

Karti Sandilya Talks About Pollution and Blacksmith's Impact

Karti Sandilya is one of the world's foremost experts in development policy and strategy. He authored the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) policy on good governance and led the development of its Poverty Reduction Strategy. Today, Karti works closely with Blacksmith, specifically on the Global Alliance for Legacy Pollution and Health initiative, a worldwide effort to clean up pollution left behind by past industrial activities.

Here is Karti talking about pollution and his work with Blacksmith his own words:

I first became aware of Blacksmith about eight years ago when Richard Fuller (Blacksmith's President) approached the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) office in Washington, D.C. looking for support. He came to see me and what I thought would be a half hour meeting ended up going on for hours.

Pollution cleanup was not high up on the list of priorities for many governments and organizations at the time. What Richard said made so much sense to me that I persuaded the ADB to provide $250,000 funding to assess toxic sites in India. That was the start of a good story because, based on Blacksmith's work, the Indian government was able to access some $140 million from the World Bank to clean up some of those sites. That is how a lot of global programs and projects gather momentum, growing from one success into another.

The way Blacksmith addresses this major public health issue, that mainly affects children, aligns perfectly with the way I like to do things.  Blacksmith works closely with communities, helping to solve problems that affect them directly.

Working with local champions has several advantages: it empowers them; it ensures that the work gets done, as they have an interest in seeing it through to completion; and, for the same reason, it also makes for sustainability of the solution. Large projects, such as those funded by ADB, often fail when they don't involve stakeholders. By contrast, Blacksmith has been extremely successful in working at the local level.

Blacksmith is quite different from the two other organizations I worked for - the Indian government and the ADB. Both are large. Blacksmith by comparison is tiny. For me, it has been great watching how a small organization can go about its work in a very effective, nimble and entrepreneurial way.

It has been truly amazing to see how the global awareness of pollution has grown with Blacksmith's efforts. From where it was in 2002 or 2003, when I first spoke with Richard, to now, it is unbelievable how many large players in the world government arena are now involved in toxic pollution cleanup.

The World Bank loan to India is one example. Another is the Indian government's decision to levy a cess on the coal industry and use the proceeds to clean up polluted sites.

Today, when Richard and I speak to institutions and individuals - in the West, in Asia, Latin America and Africa - their appreciation and interest is immediate and palpable.

The proof of this can be seen in the World Bank's support for a global partnership to tackle toxic pollution. They call it the Global Alliance for Legacy Pollution and Health initiative, and as we travel the globe engaging multilateral and bilateral donors and recipient countries, we're finding a ready acceptance of the issue. So, we're organizing a meeting in July this year in Bellagio, Italy to carry this discussion forward and I'm delighted that high-level officials have already confirmed their participation.

I must also say that, as an Asian, I feel particularly gratified by the work I do at Blacksmith. Industrialization, urbanization, globalization - all have had a huge impact on Asia in recent decades, and with them has come toxic pollution. So, we need to deal with this sooner rather than later. This is a priority not only for China and India but also for all the other countries. They've started to tackle it and we need to help them.

So, there is little doubt that we at Blacksmith are onto something here. And I truly believe toxic pollution is going to be the next big thing in environmental concerns.

-- Karti Sandilya, March 2012