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: 14th March 2018

Last Updated: 19th March 2018

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