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Bang Krachao property boom threatens city's 'lung'

As rapidly expanding property developments prompt land prices in the capital to skyrocket, the Bang Krachao area in Samut Prakan's Phra Pradaeng district - a vast, lush expanse dubbed the "lung of Bangkok" - has seen a deterioration of its pristine environment, as large amounts of its green areas are lost each year to housing estates and fruit plantations.



Residents are selling their lands to well-paying developers, at an annual rate of around 100 rai on the 11,819-rai area, located along the bank of the Chao Phraya River to the west of Bangkok, while many others turn their plots into lucrative orange plantations, which require huge amounts of chemical fertilisers and insecticides, prompting a key ecological concern in the long run.



Thanks to its lush greenery, the expanse yields an average of 2 degrees Celsius cooler than the area of the capital just across the river, according to research by Kasetsart University cited at a recent seminar. During the hot season, the temperature difference between green areas and residential areas in the capital can be as large as 4 degrees, which is very meaningful amid the current rise in global temperatures, said Jongrak Watcharinrat, a lecturer at KU's Faculty of Forestry. Jongrak spoke at the seminar, titled "Research and Development of Green Areas in Bang Krachao for Sustainability"



Given Bang Krachao's picturesque riverbank landscape, which is enveloped by a curve in the Chao Phraya, residents there are selling their much-sought-after land to property developers, who build both housing estates and high-rise condominium buildings, pushing land prices to Bt10 million per rai and rising.



Panalee Mangkornsaksit, a forestry official handling a government project approved in 1991 to set up a so-called "mid-city garden" in the Bang Krachao area, said residents are cutting down cork trees and similar plants, which hold the riverbanks together, to make way for the orange plantations, while developers also encroach the banks cutting down these trees in the process.



"These plants firmly hold together the land along the riverbank, with their roots connecting to each other like spiders' webs. Once they are removed the muddy riverbank land will soon collapse and these houses and condos will be standing in the water," she said.



"Chemicals used on orange plantations would also certainly drain into the river and contaminate it to some degree, which would also be a huge ecological concern," Panalee said.



Panalee said the 1,276-rai government "city garden" project, which was initiated in 1977 but only approved 14 years later, was still being developed, but cooperation from residents had deteriorated since the property boom. The project now tries to preserve the greenery in the Bang Krachao area, but its plan to acquire an estimated 9,000 rai was being hindered by the high land prices, which made residents willing to sell their plots to wellpaying developers.



Royal Forestry Department directorgeneral Bunchob Sutthamanaswong, citing a suggestion by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, said areas outside of the project should be taken care of through a government effort to encourage residents to maintain the green areas and grow more plants suitable to the area.



The Princess, quoted by Bunchob, also suggested that no more large buildings - even government offices - should be constructed in Bang Krachao, and large trees should be protected. The manager of a similar project, Bart Lambregts, told the seminar that Bang Krachao should be kept as the "lung of Bangkok", just as Central Park serves as the "lung of New York City".










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