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Smoky flashback

JAPAN’S EXPERIENCE IN THE BATTLE AGAINST AIR POLLUTION· Takamitsu Sawal ·The pollution-related health damage compensation and Prevention Association

By H B Mathur
Published: Thursday 30 April 1998

Rising smoke: Japan is yet to< the book drives home the point that pollution prevention is more economical than pollution control. Japan attained economic success through modernisation and rapid industrialisation. But this also resulted in large-scale pollution.

In the rush for rapid industrialisation, Japan faced industrial air pollution mainly of dust, soot and sulphur oxides. This affected agriculture, forests and fisheries, not to mention the health hazards faced by the people. Violent public pro-tests and movements demanding compensation prompted officials to formulate air pollution control measures and the enactment of the "basic law of environmental pollution control" as also the "compensation law for pollution-related health damage".

Enforcement of the principle of "polluter pays", progressive efforts of some local governments, achievement of a national consensus to contain pollution and damage to health and deployment of pollution abatement technologies led to the awakening of the industry and its aggressive pollution control investment. This resulted in rapid reduction of industrial air pollution and made Japan's pollution control policy a "success" in the limited realm of industrial pollution.

However, the issue of urban and domestic pollution in Japan is still unresolved. The book analyses the urban and domestic air pollution and the present status of the measures to combat them.

In Japan, there is no proper urban planning. There are no emission control measures for polluting vehicles. Also missing is a developed framework of integrated and compelling environmental administration that could respond to additional issues such as transportation and land use and above industrial pollution control.

In the case of urban and domestic air pollution, the victims of pollution are often also the perpetrators, as automobiles used in everyday life represent the predominant source of air pollution. Hence, the problem of this type of pollution cannot be resolved by merely demanding a response from the vehicle manufacturers. Efforts on the part of every citizen to use cleaner fuels is the need of the hour.

To combat pollution, there has to be a shift from individual vehicle to mass transport system, integrated traffic planning including traffic restrictions, promotion of "low polluting" vehicles and "cleaner burning" fuels for automobiles. Older vehicles also need to be phased out in addition to the continuous upgrading of technology by the vehicle manufacturers.

Thus, success in combating the growing menace of urban and domestic pollution can be achieved only by the integration of a comprehensive environmental policy with urban planning, development of appropriate "eco-policy linkages" and the consolidation of legal framework of regulations and standards. Vehicle manufacturers also need to works towards technological deve-lopment and aggressive pollution control investment.

In these areas, Japan has yet to achieve as much success as was achieved in the limited realm of industrial pollution control. Japan's experience in these areas of pollution control could be a valuable guideline for other nations striving in this direction.

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