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My e-mail inbox has been flooded today by news releases from the North American Development Bank. The San Antonio-based bank – a rare funding source for public health issues that have plagued the border region for decades – has sent eight media advisories announcing the long-awaited approval of $137 million in loans pending before it for months.

Some bank officials were concerned earlier this year that the institution, launched as a corollary to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, would be closed by the U.S. Treasury Department and its Mexican counterpart, Hacienda. Treasury officials were concerned about its efficiency. The bank has been around for 12 years, lending $104 million in that time. But its administrative costs have been $60 million.

But it survived, and its media relations team isn’t hesitating to boast. Every Mexican state that got a loan got its own news release.

Baja California will get $29.5 million in loans from the bank to finance a street-paving project in Tijuana and the purchase there of “solid waste collection equipment.”

A quick primer on the bank and the idea behind its formation: NAFTA would boost trade between the United States and Mexico. Increasing trade would exacerbate existing environmental problems along the border. More trucks would stir up more harmful dust. While economic growth would be stimulated, more residents would generate more sewage and garbage.

The bank was designed to address those problems by paving dusty roads, expanding sewage treatment plants and building landfills – helping to improve health among border residents, who have the nation’s highest mortality, morbidity and infant mortality rates.

But few had turned to it, because its loan rates hadn’t been competitive. Bank officials say they’ve been committed to improving the bank’s efficiency.

ROB DAVIS

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