Report maps manufacturing pollution in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

24 septembre 2020

The study explores the environmental and resulting health impacts of pollutants generated by the manufacturing sector, often touted as a driver of economic growth.

Default image copyright and description


Manufacturing is often seen as a pathway to greater economic growth, as reflected in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular goals 9 and 12.

But the production and trade of manufactured goods also cause pollution, spewing heavy metals, dyes, bleaching agents and other pollutants that directly affect the quality of air, water and land.

A new report, Manufacturing Pollution in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia: Implications for the Environment, Health and Future Work, explores the environmental and health impacts associated with manufacturing activities in the two regions.

“Polluting industries are increasingly prevalent in lower- and middle-income countries, where environmental and public health protections are limited and there are few resources to implement cleaner methods of production,” said Alessandro Moscuzza, climate change and environment adviser at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the United Kingdom of  Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“This combination of factors has contributed to a variety of impacts on the natural environment, human health and well-being, as well as worsened socioeconomic inequalities, social injustice and poverty,” he added.

Most polluting industries

The report, commissioned by UNCTAD and funded by the FCDO, identifies the textiles, apparel and tanneries sectors, which rely heavily on natural resources, as being among the most polluting manufacturing industries in both regions. 

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textile production, for example, uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually, contributing significantly to water scarcity in some regions. And 85% of all textiles end in landfills.

The report also explores pollution pathways in detail, taking into account concentrations and exposure risks for workers in manufacturing jobs and their households. It highlights the causal role of climate change, gender and social inequalities in exacerbating the negative impacts of pollution from the manufacturing sector.

“This negatively impacts productivity and competitiveness in the long run,” UNCTAD economist Robert Hamwey said. “We need to understand these dynamics further and extend technical assistance to help countries address related challenges."

The report was prepared by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of York as part of the Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution (SMEP) Programme. The findings suggest several areas for future work under the programme:

  • Links between manufacturing, pollution and sustainable development: Understanding how manufacturing can be developed to support global sustainability goals; the role played by supply chains, consumer demand and multinational companies; the role the informal sector plays in pollution from manufacturing; the role of poverty and gender; and the relationship between plastic pollution and manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

  • Policy measures: Understanding results from government policy which organized the formation of industrial zones or industrial villages, where polluting activities are moved away from urban or residential areas to reduce pollutant exposure.

  • Health effects: Engaging with the public health sector and improving occupational health.
  • Data improvement and assessment of actions: Developing and implementing rapid assessment methods, as well as methods to assess personal exposure; and assessing the feasibility and effectiveness of the range of actions available.

  • Collaboration among stakeholders: Establishing collaboration with existing initiatives that work in different regions and at different scales on issues relevant to pollution from the manufacturing industry.

About the SMEP Programme

The SMEP programme was established by the United Kingdom’s FCDO and is implemented in partnership with UNCTAD. It’s managed by a consortium of three organisations: SouthSouthNorth, Pegasys and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

Its activities aim to generate cutting-edge scientific evidence that can improve existing knowledge of the environmental and socio-economic impacts of selected manufacturing sectors across focus countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 

It will also identify suitable technology-based solutions to address the most pressing environmental and health issues associated with manufacturing in focus countries and invest in developing business processes and systems that will result in the uptake of pollution control solutions. 

In addition, the programme will address plastic pollution, focusing on identifying and supporting the development of solutions towards material substitution and enhanced biodegradation options.

The FCDO has committed £25 million to the delivery of research and related actions to meet the programme’s objectives.

The SMEP programme was launched in 2019 and will run until 2024.