Air and noise pollution is growing in Cambodia. Air pollution causes a series of significant health problems including asthma, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and premature death [1]. In accordance with the World Health Organization's guidelines, the air quality in Cambodia is considered moderately unsafe, with the most recent data indicating the country's annual mean concentration of PM2.5 exceeds the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3 [2]. In addition, Cambodia ranked 125th out of 180 countries in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for air quality in 2020 [3]. Available data indicates that Phnom Penh has consistently high levels of air pollution [2].

Solid waste pollution has grown at a rate of 10% annually [1]. Solid waste management needs to improve in all municipalities and localities, especially to address hazardous waste, persistent organic pollutants, electronic and electrical waste, and plastic waste [1]. According to a 2015 study conducted by the Institute of Technology of Cambodia and the Cambodian Education and Waste Management Organization (COMPED), Phnom Penh produced about 1,286 tons of solid waste per day in 2013. By 2030, it is estimated that this will more than double to 3,112 tons per day [4], [5].

Liquid waste pollution and chemical waste pollution are also problems in Cambodia. The most critical sources of liquid waste pollution are from dyeing and washing factories, factories that use chemical compounds, power plants etc. [1]. In Cambodia, arsenic is the most critical chemical groundwater contaminant affecting a very large area and causing severe health consequences for those consuming contaminated water over a long period of time. Arsenic concentrations in Cambodia have been found as high as 3,000 ppb in places, remarkably higher than the WHO drinking water quality standard of 10 ppb [6].

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health reported that 15,500 Cambodians died from pollution-related disease in 2015, predominantly from air pollution.


Rapid economic and population growth in Cambodia is leading to significant environmental pollution. Environmentalists have identified four main industrial activities that significantly contribute to environmental pollution: garment factories, brick kilns, rice milling and rubber processing [7], [8].

The ambient air quality and noise pollution are caused by a number of factors such as industrial and handicraft, transportation, construction, and infrastructure sectors. The increased use of vehicles; transportation means; and fossil fuels such as coals, fuel oils and diesels for electricity production; the continued use of firewood for cooking and industrial enterprises; and solid and agricultural wastes burning practices are major causes of air pollution [1].

With rapid population growth and urbanization, solid waste is increasing exponentially. Without effective and timely management, solid waste will negatively affect public health, ecological systems, and contribute to climate change [1].


Key policies and governance approach

As a basic policy of environmental protection, Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates that the State shall protect the environment and balance the use of abundant natural resources and establish a precise plan of management of land, water, air, wind, geology, ecological system, mines, energy, petrol and gas, rocks and sand, gems, forests and forestry products, wildlife, fish and aquatic resources [9].

In 1996, the Law on Environment Protection and Natural Resource Management was enacted, followed by several relevant sub-decrees, including the Sub-Decree on the Water Pollution Control (1999) and Sub-Decree on the Control of Air Pollution and Noise Disturbance (2000) [9]. A Sub-Decree on the Implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Process was also proclaimed in 1999, stipulating the nature and formats of assessment and the kind of projects required to do such assessment by their nature, size, activity, etc  [9].

Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) are conducted for public and private development projects in order to ensure harmonization with environment, social and culture as well as to contribute to sustainable development. The Strategic Plan on Environmental Impact Assessment 2016-2018 was developed for promoting the development of regulations and law enforcement, enhancing the efficiency in reviewing and commenting on ESIA reports for development projects and strengthening the efficiency in monitoring and evaluating of the implementation of projects [1].

Continuing partnerships with development partners and the private sector are required to improve waste management, collect data on sources of pollution including solid and liquid waste, and for the management and monitoring of industrial wastes. The Ministry of Environment has issued 5 sub-decrees related to waste management, which are the Sub-Decree on Municipal Solid Waste Management, Sub-Decree on Social Environmental Fund, Sub-Decree on the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste, Sub-Decree on Plastic Bag Management and Sub-decree on the Management of Sewage System and Water Treatment [10].

In addition, the NESAP (2016-2023) includes amongst its desired outcomes: ‘Resources use efficiency measures are applied resulting in minimizing production inputs and pollution from air, solid, and liquid sources from industrial, urban, and agriculture for healthy environment and social well-being while increasing business competitiveness and incentivizing technological innovation’ [1].  



The RGC has taken several measures to manage and reduce environmental and natural resources pressure and loss. However, the NESAP 2016-2023 highlights that more concerted efforts with adequate resources are required to effectively manage the drivers and impact on natural capital in Cambodia, especially by addressing limited financial resources and capacities, and inadequate awareness of the value and vulnerability of the natural capital [1].

The investment in environmental protection is still at a modest level, and greater funding is needed for more effective implementation, including for the development of infrastructure (sewage system, wastewater treatment plan) to support new regulations. It will be important to show that investing in environmental sustainability is profitable as evidenced by positive job creation, increased competitiveness in trade and better access to global markets [1].

In terms of waste management and pollution, key constraints include lack of awareness; limited effluent/emission treatment capacity by factories and absence of sound disposal options; ineffective enforcement and compliance with the law; and no engineered landfill sites or lowemission incineration facilities available. Therefore, it is important to provide an assessment on the different levels of pollution and their subsequent impacts on biodiversity and human health as well as current and anticipated needs and capacity gaps so that proper actions can be taken effectively [1].  


Initiatives and Development Plans

To cope with the ongoing challenges, the RGC has identified various strategies and plans including the important task of updating vital legal documents and establishing policies, plans and strategies on environmental protection. NESAP 2016-2023 listed many projects for implementation, some of which have already been funded. The total available and pending finance at the time NESAP was finalised was about US$263.5 million. Identified projects included (i) environmental governance reform for sustainable development; (ii) collaborative management for watershed and ecosystem service protection and rehabilitation in the Cardamon Mountains; (iii) green urban development programme; (iv) second Greater Mekong Sub-region corridor towns development project; (v) integrated urban environmental management in the Tonle Sap Basin; and (vi) understanding Tonle Sap Great Lake. [1].

The Phnom Penh Waste Management Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2035 was developed to guide the Phnom Penh Capital Administration’s effort to improve waste management, through strengthening the collection, transportation, and disposal of waste, as well as promoting the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle of waste) and seeking the cooperation of those who produce the waste [11].


Goals and Ambitions

The Cambodia Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030 (CSDGs) highlight the RGC’s strong commitment to reduce environmental pollution. CSDGs aim to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management (goal 11.6) and improve water quality by reducing pollution (goal 6.3) by 2030 [12].

  • To promote environmental quality in Cambodia, the existing laws and regulations should be amended and put into full implementation.
  • A clear monitoring plan on air, water and solid waste management should be developed.
  • Relevant projects on air and water quality monitoring and assessment should be proposed within hot spot locations throughout the country.
  • More automatic, real-time water and air quality monitoring stations should be installed and demonstrate their value in project implementation.