Chula academic calls for radical measures to reduce the number of vehicles on the streets of bangkok
THE SEVERE air pollution problem in Bangkok will take a heavy toll on the country’s economy unless the authorities can effectively clear the smog, a research report warned yesterday.
A Kasikorn Research Centre analysis yesterday said the smog could cost Thailand Bt6.6 billion in losses for the healthcare and tourism sectors due to the impact of the recent PM2.5 crisis.
The analysis stated that the healthcare and tourism sectors would be affected the most from the smog, as people face serious risks to their health from the excessively high PM2.5 levels, while the pollution and smog in the city were driving tourists away from Bangkok, hitting the tourism industry.
According to the statistics on air pollution-related sicknesses, cited in the Kasikorn Research Centre analysis, it was found that the harmful PM2.5 level had already increased the number of patients with respiratory diseases in the capital. It is estimated that at least 2.4 million people out of 11 million citizens in Bangkok now suffer from allergies and respiratory diseases.
Kasikorn Research Centre estimated that the higher expenditure on medical treatment would cause loss of opportunity to the economic system of up to Bt3.1 billion.
Meanwhile, it was also found that many tourists were leaving the capital for other destinations to avoid the harmful air quality in Bangkok.
The analysis warned that unless authorities come up with mitigation measures to relieve the air pollution problem soon, a large number of tourists may cancel their trips to Thailand, inflicting losses to the tourism industry estimated at up to Bt3.5 billion, or 4.5 per cent of overall tourism revenue in Bangkok, during this time of the year.
However, the analysis highlighted that this was just a preliminary estimate of economic losses from air pollution. The full extent of the economic damage will depend on the duration and severity of the smog crisis and the effectiveness of authorities in tackling this problem.
Kasikorn Research Centre urged the authorities to thoroughly identify the causes of air pollution, as well as learn from other countries’ efforts to tackle air pollution in order to lay out a long-term action plan to sustainably solve the smog problem for the long run.
Meanwhile, Assoc Professor Manoj Lohatepanont, Chulalongkorn University’s Transportation Institute director, suggested that the most efficient way to improve air quality in Bangkok was to lower the number of cars on the streets.
“The best solution to mitigate air pollution is to cut down pollution emission at its source,” Manoj said.
“Pollution from traffic is unarguably one of the biggest factors behind the severe smog in the city, so the simplest way to reduce pollution emissions from the transport sector is to remove as many vehicles as possible from the roads.”
He pointed out that there was evidence that his suggestion would be effective in reducing air pollution in the city. Bangkok’s air-quality chart clearly showed that the air quality in Bangkok greatly improved during the long New Year holidays when a majority of cars were off the capital’s streets.
The air pollution rebounded to harmful levels again after the long holidays, as people returned to Bangkok and the city was bogged down in heavy traffic.
Even though the proposal to lower the traffic volume may on the surface appear too radical and unrealistic for implementation in a bustling city like Bangkok, he maintained that this goal could actually be achieved.
“It can be achieved by issuing supporting measures: for instance, announcing a day off for schools in Bangkok on days when the PM2.5 level is high or offering incentives to encourage people to use public transport, I am certain the number of private cars on Bangkok’s streets can be substantially lowered,” he said.
He emphasised that as every citizen in the course of their daily lives was adding to the air pollution, everyone had a duty to keep the air clean. He said they could contribute to this cause by refraining from driving a car and by trying to avoid travelling unnecessarily.