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Attacking Air Pollution in Hanoi

Hanoi, May 1, 2008 - East Asia ’s rapid growth in population, motorization, and energy consumption has placed a heavy toll on the air quality of the region’s cities. According to 2007 World Bank statistics, four out of the ten most polluted cities worldwide in terms of Particulate Matter (PM) levels are located in East Asia.  Air pollution levels, especially PM, are well beyond the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline values.  In fact, the WHO estimates that around 350,000 deaths in the East Asia region alone are directly attributable to air pollution. (Estimated deaths & DALYs attributable to selected environmental risk factors, by the World Health Organization Member State, 2002.)


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World Health Organization - Quantifying Environmental Health Impacts

Air Quality Management in East Asia

Transport in Vietnam
Vietnam , Hanoi  in particular, is no exception to this rule.  Though not as serious as  Bangkok ( Thailand) or Hochiminh City (Vietnam ), and despite successfully phasing out lead from gasoline, Hanoi still faces significant air quality deterioration, partly due to its high motorization rate. Like other Asian cities, air pollution levels still exceed the national ambient air quality standards at least in regards to particulate matter.


The good news is that more effective air quality management has been able to improve urban air quality in East Asian cities.   As a result, and due to the Vietnamese government’s special interest in favor of better air for Hanoi , the World Bank’s Hanoi Urban Transport Development Project, currently under implementation, includes an innovative component on air quality improvement.  This component seeks to develop an air quality management system which will help reduce human exposure to vehicular air pollution and the consequent health impact for Hanoi residents. 


This important initiative, the first of its kind in Vietnam , formally began with a study financed by the  Norwegian Trust Fund for Private Sector and Infrastructure (NTF-PSI) in 2006.  The study evaluated air quality impacts of traffic and other sources in Hanoi concluding that vehicular emissions represent as much as 40 percent of known local emission sources in terms of particulate matter. More specifically, motorcycles, the primary contributors to traffic emissions, contribute 43 percent of total PM emissions, 54.5 percent of carbon monoxide, and 54.1 percent of hydrocarbon.


Bus Exhaust in VN

Poor vehicle maintenance results in increased pollutants to the air.(photo courtesy of Mariana Torres)

The results of the study gave the Hanoi Urban Transport Development Project a basis from which to frame the air qualityimprovement program. The first strategic outcome was the establishment of a key agency for  air quality monitoring and policy development in Hanoi, the Hanoi Center for Environmental and Natural Resources Monitoring and Analysis.  This agency fills the institutional capacity gap which previously made monitoring so challenging. 


The high emissions contribution of motorcycles was tackled by establishing effective control measures.  Following international best practices, a pilot operation and demonstration inspection and maintenance program for motorcycles was developed to enforce emissions standards for motorcycles.  The pilot operation’s star activity was a Motorcycle Clinic, implemented in the first quarter of 2007, designed to educate motorcyclists and other citizens on good maintenance practices and its correlation with environmental and effects.  A total of 1,675 motorcycles participated in the event. 


The Motorcycle Clinic provided the city with a wealth of information equivalent to an emissions inventory, which allows the newly established agency, CEMNA, to analyze the emissions from traffic and evaluate the impact of the future control options for Hanoi , therefore promoting effective policy making.   A sample of the data collected is shown in the table below. 

Motorcycle Clinic Findings

Total number of motorcycles in Hanoi


Average number of motorcycle/household

497 for every 1000 persons

Motorcycle distance driven per person

7,250 km/year

Type of Motorcycle

Over 99% 4-stroke


The Clinic was pivotal in both assessing the community’s environmental awareness and increasing their knowledge on environmental and health impacts of vehicle-related air pollution. Surveys showed that 94.4 percent motorcycle owners are aware that motorcycles pollute the air, 68.3 percent think 10 year old motorcycles should be banned in Hanoi city, and 96.6 percent are willing to pay for emissions reduction technology.


Motorcycle emissions testing

Checking the make up of motorcycle emissions.
(photo courtesy of Mariana Torres)

Lessons learned from the Motorcycle Clinic included the following:

  • Improve coordination amongst the various agencies and stakeholders influencing air pollution policy making
  • Strengthen public sector capacity to improve air quality management
  • Develop an air quality agenda aligned with the various actors’ economic incentives and seeking to reduce and eventually eliminate subsidies leading to environmental damage.
  • Enforce emission standards to promote routine maintenance and tighten them progressively.
  • Develop a maintenance culture through education campaigns and effective inspection and maintenance programs.


The full extent to which the air quality component of the Hanoi Urban Transport Development Project will benefit the city is yet to be seen.  What is certain by now is the big success of the Motorcycle Clinic in Hanoi. Considered a pilot for the country and region, Motorcycle Clinics as tools to improve air quality are being considered other Vietnamese cities. 

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