Managing Industrial Pollution in the Greater Mekong Subregion

After centuries of agricultural dependence, GMS countries have pursued industrialization in recent decades. As a result, their economies are now more diversified and consumer-driven. Although this has brought many socioeconomic benefits, it has created pollution problems, which are worsening.

Air pollution is a growing concern in urban areas across the GMS, as is the level of pollution in coastal and other water bodies. The impacts on health and the environment are already considerable and coming at an increasing cost to economic development.  Effective efforts to tackle all forms of pollution will be essential for the GMS countries to achieve many of their Sustainable Development Goals.

The GMS’s most industrialized countries—the PRC, Thailand, and Viet Nam—are already investing heavily in monitoring and managing pollution, though more needs to be done. Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Myanmar are still in the early stages of industrialization and pollution is emerging as a growing problem in these countries, where thousands of factories have been built in recent years. Pollution from their burgeoning manufacturing sectors is a pressing concern for human health and the environment. So far, these countries have inadequate capacity, resources, and systems to monitor and manage pollution.

The CEP analyzed industrial pollution risks in the Lao PDR in 2015  and Cambodia in 2016 at the request of both countries’ governments. The program used the World Bank’s Industrial Pollution Project System with its coefficients for 16 water, air, and land pollutants. The system is fairly easy to use because it mainly relies on a database of national enterprises with information about the size, location, and type of manufacturing businesses.  In 2017, Myanmar sought CEP support to analyze its industrial pollution risks, but because of inadequate enterprise data, the analysis was less comprehensive than for the other countries.

Despite the data constraints, important insights were generated for all three countries. The main finding was that they could make large reductions in industrial pollution discharges by focusing resources on a relatively small number of industrial facilities in a few geographic areas. In the Lao PDR, for example, 10 cement lime and plaster enterprises account for more than 30% of the country’s industrial air pollution emissions. Across all three countries, the most polluting facilities are concentrated in the urban fringes, economic and industrial zones, and near major transport and trade infrastructure, such as ports, airports, and highways.

Among the recommendations that build on the pollution analyses was for a review of pollution control resources to ensure they are allocated to the most polluting sectors and geographic areas. Another recommendation calls for industrial pollution audits for plants identified as the largest producers of air, water, and toxic pollutants.

Using the Industrial Pollution Project System was an important first step for mainstreaming pollution control in the three countries. The analyses raised awareness among government officials about the pollution situation, information needs, and where resources should be allocated.

The findings influenced major environmental strategies in the GMS, including the Lao PDR’s Pollution Control Strategy and Cambodia’s National Environmental Strategy and Action Plan. The findings can also be used to inform environmental quality guidelines and broader policies and regulations for environmental and social safeguards.

With better input data and coefficients adjusted to national contexts, an adapted version of the Industrial Pollution Project System could be a powerful tool to help the GMS countries estimate emissions and to avoid and mitigate pollution.

Publish Date: 15th March 2018

Last Updated: 19th March 2018

See more content: Strategic Planning GMS Safeguards

See also

Consultation Workshop on GMS Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Program (SAFSP)

3 to 4 April 2019

GMS Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Program (SAFSP): The proposed TA will build on accomplishments of the two phases of the Core Agriculture Support Program and support the implementation of Strategy for Promoting Safe and Environment-Friendly Agro-Based Value Chains in the GMS and Siem Reap Action Plan, which was endorsed by the GMS Agriculture Ministers in late 2017. The SAFSP interventions will focus on areas such as (i) climate-smart and gender-conscious agricultural value chains, (ii) food safety and quality, and (iii) water-food-energy nexus in a warming world (through the adoption of climate-friendly agricultural adaptation practices and technologies).


SAFSP will focus on ADB’s value addition in advancing the use of advanced digital technologies, leveraging investments and applying integrated solutions on the safe, environment and climate-friendly agro-based value chains in the GMS. The TA will assist GMS towards becoming a more integrated, prosperous, inclusive, resilient and sustainable subregion, by focusing on principles such as “food safety for all, climate-friendly agriculture, inclusiveness of small farmers, gender empowerment, corporate social responsibility, good governance, benefits for all GMS countries, and integration with ASEAN”.


The SAFSP will have the following themes to be implemented over 5 years:


      1.          Greening of agribusiness supply chains

      2.          Inclusive and gender-conscious food value chains

      3.          Financing climate-friendly agribusinesses

      4.          Food safety and quality standards, certification and traceability

      5.          Cross-border animal health and value chain development

      6.          Water for food security in a changing climate

      7.          Agricultural adaptation in the context of water-food-energy nexus


The Asian Development Bank (ADB) organized a workshop on the GMS SAFSP on 3-4 April 2019in Kunming, People’s Republic of China. The workshop was divided into six sessions, where each session discussed (i) key challenges for each seven themes, (ii)  current status (e.g. policies, building capacities and mobilizing investment for infrastructure), and best practices that could be replicated, (iii)  key priorities for action, and (iv) advantages or disadvantages in adopting a regional approach.

More than 80 participants attended. Delegates included senior government officials from 6ADB developing member countries, senior staff from international and regional development organizations, including ADB, non-government organizations, academia, and the private sector.

The agenda and presentation materials can be downloaded below.


More details

Consultation Workshop on GMS Climate Change and Environment Sustainability Program (CCESP)

1 to 2 April 2019

Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Climate Change and Environment Sustainability Program (CCESP): The proposed knowledge and support technical assistance (TA) on CCESP will build on the key achievements of two phases of the Core Environment Program and support the implementation of the GMS Core Environment Program Strategic Framework and Action Plan 2018-2022, which was endorsed at the Fifth GMS Environment Ministers’ Meeting held in 2018. The CCESP will focus on creating enabling conditions to leverage additional investment in priority areas such as (i) green technologies and sustainable infrastructure; (ii) natural resources and ecosystem services; and (iii) green growth, climate resilience and disaster risk management.

More details
Back to Online Library