UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 6. Status of soil pollution in Asia and the Pacific

National and regional priorities in Asia and the Pacific

A few countries in the region have already set their priorities or at least identified the problems of environmental resource management. There are also state/jurisdiction-level priorities in the region.

As an example, the main priorities of Taiwan-EPA with regard to soil pollution are:

  • to identify sites polluted by different types of sources,
  • to develop a range of soil remediation technologies to clean up sites containing different soil contaminants,
  • to develop a risk-based approach to soil remediation to reduce risks to human health, or food safety for a large area of geogenically polluted soils, to determine whether contaminant concentrations are higher than the regulations or to control standard contaminant levels based on the Soil and Groundwater Remediation Act (Taiwan-EPA, 2019b).

Another special scheme that has been established at the national level concerns cadmium in New Zealand’s soils. New Zealand has a historical problem of soil pollution by cadmium, and has therefore developed a strategic cadmium pollution identification and mitigation plan and has established a cadmium management group in 2011 (NZ-MPI, 2019). The objective of this special group is to minimize the risk of cadmium pollution from rural production and help protect human health and the environment.

In the South Asia region, for example, Sri Lanka has set the following national priorities:

  • Introduction of a new “Soil Conservation and Land Degradation Prevention Act” and its implementation. The original Conservation No 25 Act came into effect in 1951. It was amended by Amendment Act No 24 of 1996. One of the objectives of this act was the conservation of soil resources and the protection of land from damage caused by floods, salinity, alkalinity, waterlogging, and drought. Given that, to date, salinity and trace elements content in irrigation water affect human health as well as agricultural productivity, this is a significant objective towards reducing soil and water pollution related to farmland. The introduction of a new Soil Conservation and Land Degradation Prevention Act will greatly contribute to the prevention of soil and water pollution in Sri Lanka.
  • Implementation of activities of the National Action Program (NAP) 2015-2024. The NAPs are developed through a participatory approach involving various stakeholders, including relevant government offices in Sri Lanka, scientific institutions and local communities. They outline the practical steps and measures to be taken to combat desertification in specific ecosystems. Sri Lanka’s NAP was prepared with the support of international organizations such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Global Mechanism (GM), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). As part of the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) measures, it is proposed to adopt soil and water conservation measures in annual crops and plantations. To achieve this, Sri Lanka is focusing on minimizing soil and water pollution from agricultural activities.
  • To develop a database on the state of soil degradation for Sri Lanka which also includes the state of soil pollution. It covers aspects related to soil erosion, fertility decline, acidification, nutrient accumulation (eutrophication), groundwater pollution, trace elements pollution, salt affected soils and acid sulphate affected soils.
  • Promotion of organic and bio-fertilizer use and revision of fertilizer quality standards in Sri Lanka.
  • Introduction of micro-irrigation and rainwater harvesting systems in Sri Lanka. The aim of this initiative is to increase individual access to uncontaminated irrigation water and to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the farming community in Sri Lanka.

Above all, it aims to develop a national land-use policy. Priority has been given not only to productivity and food security for better economic development, but also sustainable land use and soil conservation. Currently in Sri Lanka, population growth is exerting increasing pressure on the use of land resources, which has led to land degradation. This, in turn, is reducing the land available for agriculture. It is estimated that 46 percent of agricultural land is affected by water erosion and 61 percent by declining soil fertility. Significant soil losses, soil pollution by agrochemicals and declining soil fertility have led to many socio-economic problems. These issues were addressed through the development of a national land-use policy that was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in 2007 in Sri Lanka.

The acid deposition monitoring network in East Asia (EANET) is an example of combined efforts to tackle acid rain and acid deposition, which can change soil quality (UNEP, 2020). EANET was established in 2001 as a regional intergovernmental network of 13 countries including China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and some ASEAN countries. The main activity of the network is monitoring, as well as the provision of training, joint research programs, and workshops. It monitors several aspects of acid deposition, including wet deposition, dry deposition, soil/vegetation, and inland aquatic environment.

In the Pacific Island countries (PIC), national and regional authorities prioritize pollution issues from land-based activities as an imminent threat to the degradation of the marine environment and associated critical habitats (Morrison, 1999). This is part of a multi-sectoral approach to coastal pollution prevention. This priority is reflected in regional strategies (e.g. integrated water management, coastal management plans), national legislation, and research outputs in the region.

The SPREP has supports regional initiatives for improving waste and POPs management tailored to the needs and priorities of PICs. Each PIC has the responsibility for national implementation of these initiatives. For example, the Convention to Ban the Importation into Forum Island Countries of Hazardous and Radioactive Wastes and to Control the Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes in the South Pacific Region (The Waigani Convention) entered into force in October 2001. This convention bans the import of all hazardous and radioactive wastes by PICs. The Secretariat is the Pacific Regional Centre for the Waigani and Basel Conventions based at the SPREP in Samoa. It was established under a memorandum of understanding between the SPREP and the Secretariat for the Basel Convention. It aims to strengthen the capacity of PICs in the management of hazardous and toxic wastes to protect human health and the environment, in coordination with regional strategies and relevant conventions such as the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions.

At the regional level, the Regional Soil Partnerships (RSPs) have been established to provide guidance on regional objectives and priorities and required implementation mechanisms. In particular, RSPs should facilitate linkages with soil management programmes and activities at national and local levels with a view to strengthening work on soils. Within this framework, the Asian Soil Partnership was established by the Nanjing Communiqué in February 2012. The Partnership is composed of the following countries:

  • East Asia: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Republic of Korea;
  • Southeast Asia: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Viet Nam; and
  • South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Sri Lanka.

The priorities of the partnership have been identified as follows:

  1. Sharing and transferring soil knowledge and new technologies in the region and beyond;
  2. Providing soil information to all those interested in the sustainable use of soil and land resources;
  3. Developing consistent and up-to-date Asian soil information systems and beginning to contribute to the Global Soil Information System through initiatives such as the Global Soil Partnership or the GlobalSoilMap; and
  4. Training new generations of experts in soil science and land management.

Recognizing the risk of soil degradation in the region, the Bangkok Communiqué (May 2015) noted that soil degradation has negative impacts on food production and associated food security, national economies, the provision of ecosystem services, adaptation to climate change and increased poverty. The main soil degradation issues that it noted were: soil erosion (onsite and offsite effects); soil pollution; soil organic matter and carbon depletion; soil sealing and capping; soil compaction; and soil acidity, salinity and alkalinity. The situation is exacerbated by climate change and unsustainable soil management practices resulting in part from the rapid economic development and urbanization that characterize some countries in the region. In order to preserve and improve soil health and to stop and reverse soil degradation, the following priorities have been identified:

  1. Promotion of sustainable soil management practices at all levels and in all types of land use;
  2. Restoration/rehabilitation of degraded soils with emphasis on soil erosion, nutrient imbalance, soil acidification, soil salinity and alkalinity, soil pollution, and loss of organic carbon; and
  3. Improvement of soil information by using the latest methods of digital soil mapping and by advocating the establishment of national soil information systems.