Giles Ji Ungpakorn
For some weeks now the air quality in Bangkok has reached crisis proportions with smog becoming an everyday occurrence.
The junta’s only solution seems to be to spray water from some tall buildings in a pathetic attempt to clear the air of polluting particles! They also talk about tightening up on regulations. But it always remains as mere talk.
Part of the reason for the current air pollution is the construction of the extension of the raised electric railway system. This was also a problem when the first sections of the overhead railway were being built 20 years ago. Tightening up on construction standards would be useful and it would probably have been better to build the entire system underground. However, this is a temporary problem and not even the main cause of pollution.
A recent research article published by the Economic Intelligence Center of the Siam Commercial Bank, written by Dr Sivalai Khantachavana outlines the main causes of the dangerous levels of particles in Bangkok’s air [See https://bit.ly/2B9AUrK ].
Pollution particles with a diameter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) are the cause of respiratory and other diseases and can have serious consequences for people exposed to these particles, especially young children. The risk factor to humans of breathing PM2.5 is higher than for smoking tobacco.
Twenty-six percent of Bangkok’s PM2.5 pollution comes from diesel engines. The emissions from these engines are made up of 90% PM2.5 particles.
Although the use of diesel engines causes 26% of PM2.5 pollution in Bangkok, another 25% comes from burning organic matter. This originates from forest and peat fires and the burning of fields after harvesting. This is a serious problem in other towns and cities across South-East Asia. Measures to control these fires are possible if there is better enforcement and new methods of agriculture are used.
Another source of PM2.5 particles comes from factories, construction and other sources dust. Building regulations and environmental controls of factories need to be properly implemented. A recent article by Anusorn Tamajai, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Rungsit University, exposes the shameful fact that the military junta’s new factory regulations law does the exact opposite. It reduces pollution controls and inspection standards for factories!
Phasing out coal-fired power stations would be a great help and would reduce CO2 in the environment. Thailand should be producing much more electricity from solar energy and wind.
But to achieve these changes requires democratically elected governments that are sensitive to environmental issues. That also means strengthening social movements.
The problem of diesel engine pollution is made worse by the use of poor quality diesel fuel and the age of vehicles on the roads. There are a total of 2.7 million diesel engine vehicles on Bangkok’s roads, making up nearly half the total number of vehicles (not including motorcycles). Nationwide almost 60% of vehicles (10.8 million) have diesel engines.
Motorcycles, mainly used by the poor, are also a source of pollution.
A majority of diesel buses and trucks on Bangkok’s roads are over 7 years old and the standards of emissions are very low. The solution, of course, is not to penalise the poor by forcing people with older vehicles off the roads, or reducing state subsidies on diesel, without providing alternative solutions.
The solution to this is to promote the use of cheap and good quality public transport. Free public transport and the use of new electric railways and electric buses would not only drastically reduce air pollution, but it would help solve traffic congestion. Pua Thai Party has proposed buying a fleet of new electric buses instead of the junta’s planned purchase of tanks from China. This is a good step forward, but a comprehensive public transport policy is still required. This would require a drastic change in government policy, which in the past has promoted private vehicle transport and ignored the need for state-sponsored mass-transit systems. It would mean raising taxes on big corporations, the rich and the Palace and it would require cutting military spending. It would also mean using economic policies which recognise the problems of a free-market driven economy.
Unfortunately, none of the political parties have made significant concrete proposals to tackle these problems.