Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in SouthEast Asia – but its capital, Bangkok, is hardly picture-perfect these days.
A yellow smog has settled over the city, pushing the air quality to dangerous levels. Officials fear next week’s Lunar New Year holiday could make the situation worse – so they’re asking people to not light incense or set off fireworks.
The pollution is a health hazard – and it’s also bad for the health of Thailand’s tourist industry.
The Kasikorn Research Center estimates the cost to the tourism and healthcare sector could be over $200 million. CGTN’s Tony Cheng reports.
The government has scrambled to respond. Water cannon were deployed to fire a fine mist of vapor to try and clean the air. And planes flying over the capital tried to seed clouds and prompt rain. But it’s the dry season, and it’s not expected to rain for months.
With the pollution getting worse, the authorities appear to have no response.
“People are saying this is the wrong solution to fix the root causes, and we have to admit that it is right, but we need to start now. I am asking for help from Bangkok residents to work on it together,” Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang said.
Residents are trying to protect themselves as best they can and face masks are now common for anyone in the city center. But the masks are ineffective against this sort of fine particle pollution, and people are getting fed up.
“It’s a frequent issue and it needs different approaches but I want the government to come out and do something about it,” a Bangkok resident said.
Their concerns are valid. Recent research shows that toxic heavy metals like cadmium, tungsten and arsenic are in the smog, in dangerously high concentrations.
The fine particle dust, PM 2.5, is so small it can penetrate into the lungs and arteries.
And for some, cleaning up Bangkok will be too late.
“It’s also the reason for premature death in Thailand for more than 37,000 people,” said Rattanasiri Kittikongnapang Project leader of Right To Clean Air at Greenpeace.
Thailand may be known as the Land of Smiles but right now you won’t see it hidden behind the masks.