Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A Bangkok Success?

A recent NY Times story presents Bangkok as a model for Asia -- a success story in the fight against pollution. The Times reports that that Bangkok has "considerably cleaner air than Beijing, Jakarta, New Delhi and Shanghai." That counts as news?

  • 3 -------- Delhi ---------11,100,000 -------- India --------- $2,900
  • 4 -------- Shanghai -----10,800,000 -------- China -------- $5,000
  • 11 ------ Jakarta ------- 8,400,000 -------- Indonesia -----$3,200
  • 14 ------ Beijing -------- 7,700,000 -------- China ----------$5,000
  • 23 ----- Bangkok ------ 7,000,000 --- ---- Thailand ------- $7,000
Obviously, with fewer inhabitants, Bangkok should have less pollution! Thailand is also a much richer country -- measured on a per-capita basis -- than India, China, or Indonesia. So you would expect the Thais to be able to afford cleaner technologies. Thailand, to its credit, has pressured Toyota and other car and motorbike manufacturers to sell cleaner vehicles in Bangkok:
. . . while the number of motor vehicles registered in Bangkok has increased 40 percent over the past decade, the average levels of the most dangerous types of pollution — small dust particles that become embedded in the lungs — have been cut 47 percent, to 43 micrograms per cubic meter from 83.
Yet, if you had stood beside me on a Bangkok sidewalk yesterday as one dirty smog-emitting bus after another passed by, you too would declare it premature for Bangkok residents to celebrate.

The air in Bangkok remains filthy. Relatively simple measures that would make a real difference to the low quality of air in the Thai capital -- notably regulating bus and tuk-tuk emissions -- have either not been enacted or not been enforced. Bangkok certainly could be a model city for Asia, but it's not there yet.

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