Industrialization is central to economic development and improved prospects for human well-being (116). The benefits of industrial production can be seen in all aspects of life from the range of consumer goods available, to the efficiency of transportation systems, to the astounding advances made in computers and communications technology. Since the 18th Century, wealth in the developed countries has paralleled industrial growth, and developed countries continue to produce the lion’s share of manufactured goods indeed, about 74 percent of the world’s industrial output takes place in the developed world (117).
Today, many developing countries are experiencing an Industrial Revolution of their own, capturing an ever-increasing share of industrial growth. The pace of this newest cycle particularly in Asia far exceeds that of developed countries. In China, for instance, industrial growth between 1990 and 1995 reached 18.1 percent a year; East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia experienced growth rates of approximately 15 percent and 6.4 percent a year, respectively (118). By comparison, North America’s industrial output grew by only about 2.6 percent a year during the same period.
The positive economic and social results of industrial growth have been accompanied by serious environmental degradation, however, as well as growing threats to health from occupational hazards. To some extent, these problems are analogous to those of early industrial Europe. In the 19th Century, the shift from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrial society initially involved widespread social and economic disruption, unemployment, homelessness, pollution, and increased exposure to health hazards both at work and at home (119). Many of these same problems characterize cities in the developing world today.
Despite the similarities between earlier European industrialization and current changes in the developing world, important differences exist in the scale and pace of industrial growth. The earlier Industrial Revolution spanned nearly 200 years; recently, countries like Thailand and Indonesia have been undergoing similar changes in just a couple of decades. As part of this growth, industrial wastes are growing in quantity and becoming more varied, more toxic, and more difficult to dispose of or degrade (120). Densities in cities where much of the industrial production is located far surpass those in developed countries, so the number of people exposed to pollutants is potentially much greater.
Furthermore, a substantial share of industrial growth in developing countries revolves around the transformation of raw materials into industrial products such as steel, paper, and chemicals. A wide range of pollutants is associated with these industries. (See Industrialization has Brought Significant Environmental Damage.) In contrast, much of economic growth in developed countries is now in the service sector (e.g., education, entertainment, defense, and finance) and communication sector (e.g., computers, cellular phones, and electronics), which are inherently less polluting.
This rapid industrial growth has made water pollution, air pollution, and hazardous wastes pressing environmental problems in many areas of the developing world. Industrial emissions combine with vehicle exhausts to cause air pollution, while concentrations of heavy metals and ammonia loads are often high enough to cause major fish kills downriver from industrial areas (122). The lack of hazardous waste facilities compounds the problem, with industrial wastes often discarded on fallow or public lands, in rivers, or in sewers designed to carry only municipal wastes.
The future scale of environmental and health problems from industrialization in developing countries will depend greatly on policy actions taken today. In Asia, for instance, up to 70 percent of the power-generating capacity and 90 percent of the cars in use in 2010 will be added in the next 12 years (123). If current production practices remain the norm, air pollution and toxic effluents from industrial production are likely to increase rapidly. If, however, choices are made to invest in more efficient and less-polluting technologies, many of industrialization’s negative impacts on health could be avoided. The potential the developing countries have to leap-frog to cleaner production is enormous, given gains in technology as well as the levels of private capital now flowing into these countries. In Indonesia, for instance, in the first half of 1997, petrochemicals represented almost one half of the US$16.2 billion in foreign investments (124). Decisions regarding the location sites of those industries, the technologies used, and the type of precautions for occupational safety could have a tremendous impact on the future health of the people who live and work there.
116. Op. cit. 4, p. 62.
117. Op. cit. 4, p. 71.
118. Op. cit. 10, pp. 130-132.
119. N. Pearce et al., “Industrialization and Health,” in Occupational Cancer in Developing Countries, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Scientific Publications No.129, N. Pearce et al., eds. (World Health Organization, IARC, Lyon, France, 1994), p. 7.
120. Daniel R. Headrick, “Technological Change,” in The Earth as Transformed by Human Action: Global and Regional Changes in the Biosphere over the Past 300 Years, B.L. Turner II et al., eds. (Cambridge University Press with Clark University, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1990), p. 65.
121. United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Yearbook of Industrial Statistics 1997 (UNIDO, Vienna, Austria, 1997), Table 1.10.
122. David Taylor, “Trade-Offs in Thailand,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 104, No. 12 (December 1996), p. 1288.
123. Carter Brandon, “Reversing Pollution Trends in Asia,” Finance and Development No. 3 (1994), pp. 21-23.