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  • 'Japan's Modernization Experience as a Legacy for the World' Part 4: Spreading Wisdom About Coping With Pollution and Protecting the Environment

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November 8, 2018

'Japan's Modernization Experience as a Legacy for the World' Part 4: Spreading Wisdom About Coping With Pollution and Protecting the Environment

Since the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan has been confronting the problem of pollution as it moved forward with industrialization for economic growth.

In this final installment in the series "Japan's Modernization Experience as a Legacy for the World," we introduce JICA's initiatives to share with developing countries the history of Japan's experiences with pollution in the course of its modernization and the lessons it learned.

Promoting capacity development for preventing pollution in developing countries

The ironmaking, silk-reeling and cotton-spinning industries have been developing in Japan since the middle of the Meiji era. With the expanded consumption of coal, the primary energy source, the phenomenon of air pollution emerged. Japan's economy grew rapidly after World War II, but the government was late in adopting measures to counter air and water pollution, and the damage from them grew more severe. Anti-pollution public opinion subsequently increased, and technology to protect the environment began to be developed along with environmental laws.

"We want to use the lessons from Japan's experience to tackle air pollution in developing countries before it does a lot of damage." These are the words of JICA Senior Advisor Taizo Yamada, who has been involved since 2008 in the Capacity Development Project for Air Pollution Control in Ulaanbaatar City being carried out in the capital of Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar City, where air pollution is worsening because of rapid urbanization, has the second worst air pollution in the world according to a 2011 World Health Organization survey. Though Mongolian officials have been urged to take countermeasures, the source of the contamination had not been well-understood, and they could not work out effective plans.

photoMeasuring exhaust fumes

First, the project went to work identifying and analyzing the sources of air pollutants and measuring exhaust gas. For coal thermal power stations and boilers for heating, which are sources of emissions, the project enhanced the government's and businesses' ability to manage emissions. This included elaboration of an inspection system based on on-site stack gas measurements.

Because the people in charge of air quality management lacked sufficient expertise and experience, the project next worked to enhance human resource training and strengthen the capacity of Mongolians to plan and evaluate countermeasures for air pollution. The project also increased citizens' interest in air pollution by disseminating air quality monitoring information to residents and schools. Now JICA will start using Japanese experiences to implement pilot initiatives to reduce air pollution, such as promoting improved fuels for the areas where there is marked air pollution from home-use coal stoves in the winter and taking steps to combat exhaust gas from buses and large diesel-engine vehicles that run in the city.

photoCauses of air pollution in Ulaanbaatar include exhaust gas from automobiles (at right), the use of coal for heating in the winter, and smoke and soot from thermal power stations (at left).

"Enhancing the capacity of Mongolian citizens, government and businesses to unite to solve air pollution for themselves is an effort that makes use of Japan's experiences overcoming pollution," Mr. Yamada said. JICA is supporting measures to fight air pollution that utilize Japanese expertise not only in Mongolia but also in Iran, Kosovo and elsewhere.

JICA is also supporting human resource training in the field of combating air pollution in various countries. In partnership with the Northwest Pacific Region Environmental Cooperation Center (in Toyama Prefecture), which is promoting environmental cooperation toward China, JICA is supporting the development of expert human resources who work to reduce substances that cause air pollution, as well as implementing the Knowledge Co-Creation Program (training program) “Capacity Building towards Air Quality Management” in Japan for officials in charge of managing air quality in developing countries.

Teaching children the importance of protecting the environment

Weak growth of rice plants during the mid-Meiji era is said to have been a forewarning of Itai-itai disease, a pollution-caused illness brought about by cadmium released during mining. This sickness of unknown origin that caused intense pain throughout the body emerged in the Taisho period (1912-1926). It was finally recognized as Japan's first pollution-caused illness after World War II when residents had been suffering for a long time. The job of aiding victims and passing legislation moved forward, and in 2012, restoration of the polluted farmland ended, but patients continue to be certified.

The history of Itai-itai disease, which emerged in Toyama prefecture, is now mentioned in an Indonesian textbook and is being used to teach children the importance of protecting the environment.

In collaboration with the Indonesian Education Promoting Foundation (in Toyama prefecture), JICA assisted with curriculum development and the creation of a textbook to teach environmental studies as a subject in elementary schools in the city of South Tangerang, a suburb of the capital Jakarta. The subject of environmental studies was introduced in 30 elementary schools in the town of South Tangerant in 2014, and it was later expanded to 300 schools. JICA is now backing the introduction of environmental studies as a subject in junior high schools and the dissemination of environmental education to other regions of Indonesia.

photoAn Indonesian textbook that covers Itai-itai disease, including the process of soil restoration.

"Through this textbook, I want to turn Japan's negative experience in a positive. A developed country must work to prevent the same tragedy from being repeated in Indonesia," said professor Hideyuki Negishi of the University of Toyama's Faculty of Human Development, director of the Indonesian Education Promoting Foundation.

In Indonesia, where people worry about environmental problems such as littering and water pollution, including that of the world's most contaminated river, it is a necessity to make children, who are responsible for the future, aware of the importance of protecting the environment. Mr. Negishi says children who hear about Itai-itai disease in classes begin to wonder whether their own water is OK.

photoIndonesian teachers interact with Japanese elementary school students.

In September 2018, 21 teachers from Indonesian junior high schools and others who would be involved in creating the textbook on the environment participated in training in Japan. It included visiting elementary and junior high schools in Toyama prefecture. "I want to create a textbook in Indonesia like the one being used in Japan, which explains environmental issues visually using photos, graphs and drawings" to increase children's interest in the environment, one said.

Japan's experiences are passed on to international students who will lead the future of their countries

A new program called the JICA Development Studies Program, which shares Japan's experience in the modern era, began in 2018. Universities are conducting lectures on Japan's distinctive development experience in fields the respective universities are competent in for international students who will lead the progress of developing countries.

In April, Hokkaido University Graduate School of Environmental Science began classes related to the history of the environment in Japan, environmental policy, the creation of environmental law, the development of environmental conservation technology that led Japan from failure to success, and more.

JICA will continue carrying out initiatives that share with developing countries Japan's experiences as the world's first non-Western nation to become developed. They will cover not just Japan's successes, but also the lessons learned from its missteps.

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