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Environmental Pollution Programme

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Official Development Assistance (ODA) Environmental Pollution Programme is working with low- to middle-income countries (LMICs) to manage and mitigate pollution in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems to benefit climate, biodiversity, and people.

Through this programme, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is providing technical assistance to partners in South Africa to deliver a multi-year pollution programme aimed at conducting action research into the environmental impacts of solid waste and wastewater, which were identified as pollution areas of specific concern in the Reducing Pollution through Partnership initial scoping year exercise. Defra, through our delivery partner, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, will also be supporting the delivery of work in Vietnam, aimed at protecting the health of people and environment from the unsafe agricultural practices of open burning and pesticide use.

Programme Overview

Vision: Working together for a pollution free future for nature, climate & people.

The Environmental Pollution Programme (EPP) seeks to share expertise and best practice, by investing in action research to strengthen the capacity of LMICs to reduce exposure to the adverse effects of pollution. Reducing the impacts of pollution will help to improve human health, whilst enhancing biodiversity recovery to build greater ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Official Development Assistance (ODA) Environmental Pollution Programme was established in 2021, with £1.3m funding for an initial scoping year. The Reducing Pollution through Partnership scoping year explored the current state of pollution in six developing countries: Angola, Indonesia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Vietnam.

Infographic showing the achievements of the Reducing Pollution Through Partnership project: 6 pilot countries, 8 delivery partners, 36 direct contributors, 10 workshops, reaching over 400 experts

Infographic with summary statistics from the Reducing Pollution Through Partnership scoping year project.

The programme developed an evidence base, interventions and project options to shape a robust multi-year programme, tackling environmental, health and regulatory challenges.

To this end, two major programmes have been developed with in-country partners in South Africa and Vietnam as part of a multi-year Environmental Pollution Programme.


Programme objectives

  • Work on selected projects, Sustainable Waste Management in South Africa, and Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Vietnam, to develop a knowledge base of the effects of pollution on biodiversity, climate, and people;
  • Research sustainable alternatives that can reduce pollution;
  • Educate selected target-groups about the health and environmental impacts of pollution;
  • Develop and promote policies that reduce the impact of pollution on biodiversity and climate, while enhancing livelihoods – particularly looking at pesticide use, open-burning practices, solid-waste, and wastewater management;
  • Analyse the possibility of replicating the programme’s achievements in other countries.


Environmental Pollution Programme, South Africa

Waste management is a major environmental issue in South Africa. The country is estimated to generate domestically a total of 12.7 million tonnes of waste per annum (Rodseth et al. 2020). In South Africa, municipalities are facing increasing pressures and challenges to provide waste management services due to growing waste generation. Every year approximately 3.67 million tonnes of this waste is not collected or treated through formal waste collection systems (Rodseth et al. 2020), resulting in large amounts being dumped illegally. The unsafe disposal of waste is detrimental to the environment and human livelihoods, contributing to flooding, pollution of land, water and air, and public health impacts. Furthermore, Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) in South Africa continue to fail to meet minimum performance requirements leading to an outflow of chemicals and waste, which have multiple negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

This motivated JNCC to partner with the Institute of Natural Resources (INR), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), and Dr Nick Rivers-Moore to design and deliver ten projects centred around sustainable waste management in South Africa. The projects will conduct research into the environmental impacts of solid waste and wastewater, and the impacts of ecosystem degradation on carbon storage, whilst working with communities to design sustainable waste management practices.

Flow chart of South Africa programme

South Africa Programme Objectives

The South Africa programme has three elements:

  • Modelling of wastewater flow within rivers, covering where and how it impacts the environment and what the chemical makeup of these wastewater emissions are, supported by point sourcing of water quality. Similar analysis of how solid waste released into rivers impacts the environment, including how chemicals from the breakdown of solid waste (e.g. persistent organic pollutants) are transported from rivers to the ocean. Models will include the physical impact of the introduction of high volumes of solid waste and wastewater into waterways on their capacity to respond to climate-forced weather events, such as increased flooding.
  • Analysis of the impact of the release of solid waste and wastewater, including quantitative estimates of the reduction in ecosystem capacity for carbon storage along the lifecycle of the waste as it travels from rivers to the ocean.
  • Pilot research projects on nature-based solutions which utilise alternative uses of solid waste developed across a minimum of three rural communities in the uMkomazi catchment area of KwaZulu-Natal, developing community monitors for environmental impact of pollutants.

South Africa Projects

1) Addressing research gaps on the impacts of solid waste and wastewater on water resources in South Africa

Overarching project which aims to align research gaps in solid waste and wastewater pollution impacts on surface water resources with stakeholder needs.  The project will involve undertaking a gap analysis process of research needs within a Theory of Change framework, whilst producing refined solid waste and wastewater pollution hotspot maps for South Africa; characterising source-sink pathways of waste into rivers; and providing a suite of models linking wastewater pollution impacts to biological responses. This project is being delivered by Dr Nick Rivers-Moore.

Photograph showing a river with vegetation in the background and visible litter in the foreground (© Isabella Gosetto, JNCC)

2) Water Quality Decision Support Tool

To develop an adaptive neuro-fuzzy inference system (ANFIS) for prediction of water quality indices and costing, as a decision support tool. This is for water treatment managers and policy makers applicable across South Africa. Two methodologies will be brought together; artificial neural networks and fuzzy logic methods to predict water quality in river systems. The cost of water treatment will be included in the decision support tool. The project will validate and apply the decision support tool for South African river systems and investigate its utility in a global context. This project is being delivered by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

3) Modelling Water Quality of the Msunduzi: accommodating for the effects of climate change and wastewater flow

A fundamental understanding of the spatial and temporal characteristics of pollutant concentration (most importantly variation within and across pollutant types) and how this is influenced by climate change is critical for monitoring and modelling pollution for management purposes in a changing climate. This motivated this project which aims to develop and apply a mathematical model for assessing water quality of the Msunduzi River in South Africa, with a deliberate design focus on accommodating for the effects of climate change and wastewater flow. This project is being delivered by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

4) Modelling Urban Flood Resilience

The main aim of the project is to generate an integrated and inclusive approach to flood risk modelling (based on different knowledge systems) towards effective solid waste management and flood resilience in urban informal settlements in South Africa. Pursuant to this main aim, two major objectives of the project are: to understand flood vulnerability in informal settlements and the different factors (including solid waste) exacerbating the impacts of floods in informal settlements; and to identify different forms of knowledge which will inform a comprehensive framework for an integrated flood risk modelling approach. The project is using the case of eThekwini Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal Province and is being delivered by the Institute of Natural Resources.

Photograph of an informal settlement on a hill with waste in the foreground (© Elizabeth Atkinson, Defra)

5) Fate and impacts of microplastic pollution

This project is investigating the combined effects of climate change stressors and pollutants on fish. To do this we will be determining if leachates and Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP) contaminants have the potential to dissociate from plastic particles and enter the bodies of fish. This will help us to understand potential impacts of pollution on fish and the ecotoxicological effects of pollution at an ecosystem level that could change species composition, food web interactions, and community structure. This project is being delivered by the Institute of Natural Resources.

6) The use of nappies and biochar as a soil amendment to restore degraded lands

This research project aims to assess the utility of low cost, simple and culturally acceptable options for the use of disposable nappies and biochar. Lack of solid waste sanitation services in some rural (and urban) areas means that people have limited options for safe disposal of nappies. Rural communities in the uMkhomazi Catchment also face challenges of land degradation and fodder shortages for livestock in winter. Our project seeks to test if nappies and biochar can be used as fertiliser on contour based grass hedges that serve the dual purpose of reducing erosion in degraded agricultural lands while also providing a source of quality fodder for livestock. This project is being delivered by the Institute of Natural Resources.

7) A feasibility analysis of cost effective biological wastewater treatment options for the dairy sector in South Africa

This project is exploring the feasibility of using low-cost biological wastewater treatment methods for mitigating the negative environmental effects of this wastewater. Working with the Durban University of Technology and dairy farmers and milk processers, the Institute of Natural Resources is investigating the physico-chemical composition of dairy wastewater and how different microbial treatments can digest the wastewater.

8) Environmental monitoring of wetland recovery following an extreme pollution event

An extreme pollution event involving agrochemicals in the uMhlanga River has provided the opportunity to track and monitor the recovery of the river’s estuary using an environmental monitoring process focussing on carbon as a key indicator. The project will be evaluating and providing recommendations on the utility of selected biomarkers and bioindicators for informing restoration of wetlands subject to extreme pollution events. This project is being delivered by the Institute of Natural Resources.

9) Nature based solutions (NbS) for solid waste disposal: Community-led spring protection to ensure sustainable self-supply

This project is developing and piloting a socio-ecological systems-based approach to capacitating rural communities to better understand and manage water self-supply from springs. This project is being implemented at sites within two catchments, namely the uMngeni catchment within the Gcumisa Traditional Authority, and the uMkhomazi catchment within Amangwaneni Traditional Authority. This project is being delivered by the Institute of Natural Resources.

Photograph of exposed plastic pipe with water flowing surrounded by vegetation and bare soil (© Isabella Gosetto, JNCC)

10) Achieving community-led solid waste pollution mitigation at the catchment scale: The case of the uMkhomazi Catchment in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

This project builds on a scoping year project and aims to understand, and co-develop solutions to address solid waste disposal in three communities (ranging from rural to urban) in important water resource areas. This project involves a series of engagements with communities using a participatory action research methodology to test different ways of disposing, recycling and repurposing solid waste. Included in this approach is a strong capacity development approach through knowledge exchange and awareness raising. This project is being delivered by the Institute of Natural Resources.


Environmental Pollution Programme, Vietnam

With 61% of Vietnam’s population living in rural areas (Saksene et al. 2014), unsustainable pesticide practices and open crop burning are both prevalent issues within Vietnam. Both issues cause air pollution, contribute to climate change and lead to biodiversity loss, through emitting greenhouse gases, reducing soil quality, reduction of carbon storage capacity and restricting the ecosystem’s ability to adapt and mitigate to issues caused by climate change. Unsafe overuse of pesticides is a widespread challenge in Vietnam, due to farmers having reduced access to training on pesticide use or integrated pesticide management (IPM) techniques and a lack of knowledge on the correct usage of pesticides (types and how much is needed to be sprayed). Despite releasing dangerous particles such as black carbon, into the atmosphere, open burning is a common practice within Vietnam. This is due to the time required to otherwise remove crop stubble and the lack of awareness of and incentives for using alternatives.

To combat these issues, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) have partnered with the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment (VACNE) and the Vietnamese Rainforest Alliance (RA) to design and deliver projects to develop sustainable alternatives to agrochemicals and open burning practices in Vietnam. The purpose of this research is to mitigate the effects of both practices on environmental pollution in Vietnam, through providing long-term practicable, tangible and sustainable alternatives that can be continued by communities once the programme formally ends, whilst also supporting climate and biodiversity goals.

Flow chart of Vietnam programme

Vietnam Programme Objectives

Photograph of three people emptying bags of straw whilst one person sprays with water (© GAHP)

The project's goal is to protect health of the environment and people from unsafe agricultural practices of open burning and pesticides use in Vietnam.

  1. Develop a knowledge base on agricultural open burning and current pesticides use and associated environmental and health impacts.
    • Establish a baseline of pesticide usage and open burning practices across Vietnam, through collating existing research, high resolution satellite data and land use data through GIS mapping to identifying hotspots for targeting interventions.
    • Conduct an impact assessment in hotspot areas against non-hotspot areas, to evaluate against to track the effectiveness of intervention over time.
  2. Research alternatives to current open-burning practices and use of pesticides and complete pilot testing with selected farming groups.
    • Work with in-country research institutions to create alternative proposals to open burning. The chosen alternative studies include, using multi-strain, multi-purpose microbial products to quickly treat rice straw after harvesting and designing wrapping machines to improve rice straw storage and treating the remaining rice straw with Racozyme.
    • Effectiveness assessment on the proposals, looking at different farming scales, identifying the most cost-effective methods for farmers, value for money on the cost of research, effectiveness of alternatives to breakdown rice straw and which provide the greatest incentive for farmers to implement.
  3. Educate selected target groups about environmental and health impacts of open-burning practices and unsafe pesticide use.
    • Training of farmers on IPM techniques, alternative to open crop burning and best practice methods that bolster agroecosystem health and prevent pest/disease outbreaks, including how to safely apply the correct quantity and type of low-toxicity pesticides.
    • Targeted campaign for Vietnamese public to boost awareness of the environmental and health effects of open burning and unsustainable/incorrect pesticide use.
  4. Develop and promote policies to reduce impacts of open-burning practices and pesticides.
    • Implementation of workshops for policymakers on regulating use of pesticides and open burning practices, including advice on best practice for monitoring and training experts on evaluating effectiveness of alternatives.
    • Applicability assessment of successful methods to roll-out across Vietnam, including adaptability to different farming scales and local implementation based upon climate and infrastructure.


Project Partners



To learn more about this project please contact us.



Rodseth, C., Notten, P., & Von Blottnitz, H. 2020. A revised approach for estimating informally disposed domestic waste in rural versus urban South Africa and implications for waste management. South African Journal of Science, 116(1-2), 1–6.

Saksen, S., Fox, J., Spencer, J., Castrence, M., DiGregorio, M., Epprecht, M., Sultana, N., Finucane, M., Nguyen, L., & Vien, T.D. 2014. Classifying and mapping the urban transition in Vietnam. Applied Geography50, 80-89.


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