Bangkok, Draped in Flowers but Smothered by Pollution, Suffers

BANGKOK — The monsoons are not lashing Bangkok, in that soggy season when my sons typically must wade by means of waist-high floods to get to soccer follow.

So why did I get soaked final week, as I walked alongside a serious avenue in the Thai capital?

The liquid, which quickly flooded one among Bangkok’s busiest intersections, got here from water cannons aimed toward assuaging the smog that has shrouded Bangkok for weeks.

Pedestrians squealed because the plumes of water shot into the air. A vendor of coconut ice cream did not cease his pushcart from careening right into a sewer. A rat scurried, then swam.

Some of the large hoses have been related to vehicles that solely contributed to the dangerous air afflicting Bangkok. Smoke spewed from the vehicles’ exhaust pipes. Officials from Thailand’s Pollution Department estimate that car emissions account for roughly 60 % of the town’s chemical haze.

A decade in the past, the Thai capital was a rarity in Asia, a spot the place the air had gotten cleaner largely due to a ban on probably the most polluting autos. Those days are gone.

Earlier this month, Bangkok cracked the listing of the highest 10 cities with the foulest air on the planet.

My sons’ college, like greater than 400 throughout the Thai capital, will probably be closed on Thursday and Friday due to the smog.

Like many Asian megalopolises, which crowd the catalog of the world’s most polluted cities, Bangkok suffers from a poisonous amalgam: unchecked industrialization and urbanization, a car-crazy populace and lax regulation. The burning of fallow fields and a dry season with little wind exacerbate the disaster.

Even as air pollution management screens say they’re eliminating the dirtiest diesel engines, a stroll on a Bangkok highway generally is a choking expertise. City buses belch murky smoke. There are too many automobiles for too few roads, and too little curiosity in public transportation.

“In our society, a car is not just a car,” stated Tara Buakamsri, the Thailand nation director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It’s a representation of affluence and a symbol of ownership. It will be very hard to get people to give up their cars.”

Having lived for a few years in China, my household is nicely acquainted with soiled air.

I used to joke that we left Beijing in 2014 as air pollution refugees. I had uninterested in strapping little face masks on our boys simply so they may commute to highschool. On many days they couldn’t play outdoors in any respect.

The smiling panda patterns on their masks couldn’t disguise the truth that positive particulate matter is especially corrosive for youngsters’s lungs.

The World Health Organization says outside air air pollution brought on four.2 million untimely deaths in 2016, claiming much more lives yearly than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria mixed.

We moved from Beijing to Shanghai simply because the air there acquired worse. A few years in the past, I didn’t understand that our dishwasher had caught hearth and was sending smoke all through the home as a result of every part was already so murky from the air pollution.

Then we moved to Bangkok. Like China, Thailand appears to be going by means of the identical cycle: denial of a continual drawback, ineffectual options after which a sudden realization that the chemical miasma isn’t going to magically disappear with out coordinated insurance policies.

For years, Beijing residents spoke of fog fairly than smog. When the fact lastly hit, the federal government thought of some outlandish concepts, like utilizing large followers to blow the air pollution out of city.

Scientists agree that spraying jets of water, particularly from polluting vehicles, will do little to disperse Bangkok’s smog.

“There are some government agencies that want to help decrease the pollution, but maybe this is not the best thing,” stated Pralong Dumrongthai, the director normal of the Pollution Control Department of Thailand, in a fragile evaluation of the water cannon remedy.

Nor will different unorthodox strategies — like water-spraying drones which were deployed in current days in Bangkok — repair the continual air drawback.

Even as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand, the top of the navy junta that seized management of the nation in 2014, performed down Bangkok’s air pollution, shopkeepers have been informed they might be liable to as much as seven years in jail for hoarding masks.

The persistent smog has turn out to be a rallying cry for some folks in Bangkok, the place the aftermath of years of coups, road protests and military crackdowns have made the town appear, a minimum of outwardly, an apolitical place.

The present junta has repeatedly postponed nationwide elections — the most recent date is about for March 24 — but there was little mass outrage expressed in regards to the sluggish return to a nominal democracy.

Years of restrictions on free speech and assembly by the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta is known, have had their effect, even if young people are eager to cast their first-ever ballots.

But the spike in air pollution has been front-page fare here — eclipsing the news trickling out earlier this month about the bodies of two exiled Thai dissidents found by the Mekong River, their abdomens stuffed with concrete blocks.

Yet Bangkok’s charms are undeniable.

Even in the ugliest agglomeration of concrete, a spray of bougainvillea pushes its way through the cracks. Spirit houses adorned with offerings of red Fanta soda nourish the city’s soul. Dusty ficus trees are wrapped with ribbons, as if their ability to flourish in such a dense urban setting is a gift to the 10 million people who call the metropolitan area home.

Flying back to Bangkok earlier this month, my heart sank as the plane descended into an ocher haze. It was the same feeling of dread I had when returning to China. In the taxi home, my driver was wearing a mask. He shook his head at the bad air. Almost immediately, we got stuck in traffic.

But, like many drivers in Bangkok, he had hung a garland of jasmine on the rearview mirror. The sweet scent mixed with the exhaust fumes. I was home.

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