For The Sake Of Fresh Air

The last few months have been a living nightmare for the tens of millions of residents of Greater Bangkok and the surrounding provinces as the city’s air becomes almost unbreathable. These are hardy people we are talking about here: millions are resigned to slogging it to work (and back) in some of the world’s worst traffic jams; thousands are paid well below the average global wage; and far too many live in appalling accommodation.


So when people started demanding the government takes drastic action to solve the insufferable situation, they were generally met with scorn. When questioned by reporters as to what people should do, one senior member of the cabinet curtly replied that people should buy face masks. When pushed on the issue, the elderly gentlemen simply asked ‘what else can I do?


Indeed, it seems the powers that be are paralysed by the onslaught of fine dust particles or PM2.5. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a safe limit of PM2.5 at 25 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³), but here in Thailand, the government’s take on the issue is to set the danger level at 50µg/m³, with one suggestion it could get as high as 100µg/m³, before the government acts. By comparison, Singapore’s safe limit is Singapore – 35µg/m³.


It must be noted that when Bangkok faced severe flooding a few years back, the navy was called into action. Its plan? Formations of boats strung across the Chao Phraya River with their engines running at full steam to ‘push’ the flood waters away from the capital. Perhaps this time the air force can be called upon to fly fleets of helicopters over the city to ‘push’ the polluted air away. Just a thought.


Everyone knows the causes behind the increase in the toxic levels of PM2.5, but the relevant authorities don’t seem willing to take action. Farmers, especially sugar cane growers, simply set fire to their fields to burn away unwanted leaves knowing full well what they are doing is against the law. Diesel-powered lorries, vans, pick up truck and cars all spew black smoke from their tailpipes with impunity and thousands of poorly managed construction sites add to the unregulated mess.


What’s needed is a plan to push ahead with the complete electrification of road transport such as busses, cars and motorbikes, stop-start technology on all new cars, better inspection of all diesel-powered vehicles before they are allowed to be driven on public roads, increased fines for those who burn fields and rubbish in public and stricter enforcement of building codes. But these idea would take years to implement and the people at the ‘coalface’ simply don’t have the luxury to wait that long.


Meanwhile, inner-city schools are being closed to protect children and hospital treatment rooms are filling up with people suffering from the toxic effects of breathing heavily polluted air. Each morning, I notice a fresh film of pollution on my patio table and my home is in the suburbs, so I can barely imagine what it might be like living in poorly maintained apartment in central Bangkok.


In due course the air will clear, but the lasting legacy will be a sick – and dying – population due to the government’s inaction.


Main image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay.

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