It never rains, but instead it pours
As the rainy season comes to an end, the population of Bangkok and its neighbouring provinces are readying to brave the return of PM2.5 dust particles that have been clouding the sky as reported recently by the Department of Pollution Control. A new working team has been set up to alert people of the situation and apparently, it will function just like the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
How well the dust crisis will be handled this time around is yet to be seen but it is certain that the tiny particles will turn things from bad to worse, especially since the country's economy has yet to recover from the fallout of Covid-19.
After months of battling against Covid-19, which has infected over 3,800 people in Thailand and killed 59, we still don't have a vaccine available even though the world is on the cusp of discovering a jab against the disease. With 11 vaccine contenders now in the final stages of testing, most experts speculate that a jab will not be available until at least the middle of next year which means that in the meantime, Covid-19 will continue to be a pain no matter how well-prepared Thailand is.
While the pandemic is still causing trouble, a new enemy is now lurking near our doorsteps -- known universally as dust particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres. In fact, PM2.5 is so small that it can enter the body by bypassing all the filtration mechanisms we have and cause damage to the lungs and cardiovascular system. Particulate matter (PM) in air pollution outside is also categorised as carcinogenic to humans, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)'s classification.
This double-trouble can surely make things all the more complicated in Thailand where over 16% of its population or around 11 million people are categorised as aged above 60, according to data from the Department of Provincial Administration. This group is one of the most vulnerable for Covid-19 and PM2.5 and both also happen to target the lungs.
In terms of environment, although some claim that the Covid-19 lockdown has been good for nature especially with less pollution and carbon emissions, some experts also fear that the world is still at risk of having a future with more vehicles and traffic, more pollution and a return of ever-increasing climate change as lockdowns ease up, according to reports by the National Geographic.
Under the new normal where people prefer food delivery services over dining in, past initiatives about going plastic-free are now out of the equation. Coupled with the arrival of PM2.5, the environment will certainly see even more damage.
To prevent the PM2.5 crisis from becoming worse this year, large lorries will be banned from entering Bangkok from 6am to 9am starting from December -- when the dust particles are expected to surge -- until February next year. Meanwhile, pollution monitoring stations have been made available at all 50 Bangkok districts with more being constructed in at least 20 large-sized public parks. But is this enough? What about measures for private vehicles? Or the idea of switching to more environmentally-friendly fuels?
In terms of protective gear, although the price of surgical masks has already dropped following widespread availability in the market, they are not able to filter dust particles as small as PM2.5. Yet, if people are to opt for the N95 mask, which is able to protect against the dust particulates, they have to pay more.
Most important of all is Thailand's economy, which has been sabotaged by the spread of Covid-19. Earlier this year, 3.3 million Thais were found to have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, according to data from the Federation of Thai Industries. Moreover, it is expected that up to 8 million people will become unemployed by the end of the year. Meanwhile, those most at risk of pandemic-related unemployment are people who work in the hospitality industry.
With PM2.5 hitting the capital city and its neighbouring provinces as well as other industrial areas in the country, it is without a doubt that this pollution crisis will slow down the already-affected tourism industry.
It seems that between the Covid-19 outbreak and now PM2.5, the world is really showing no mercy on Thailand at all.
This leads back to the actual cause of the whole thing -- the exploitation of natural resources. The solution to all these problems are long-term and requires years of action and collaboration from all parties involved.
However, for now, let's just be kind to the environment and prepare for the next big headaches in years to come.
Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Deputy editor of the Life section
Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.