High time to tackle haze
At a glance, the opening of the Centre for Air Pollution Mitigation (CAPM), which is tasked with reducing levels of the toxic PM2.5 fine dust, seemed like a promising sign.
The centre is to serve as a focal point for getting ministries and agencies on the same page in the effort to tackle the air pollution problem which has blighted the nation for a number of years and will only get worse without concerted attempts to curb it.
The structure resembles that of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, which has played a crucial role in containing the pandemic domestically. Evidently, the government has founded the CAPM with a similar process in mind to cascade national policy and reduce overlaps.
In just a week, the CAPM made positive headlines as it issued three-day PM2.5 forecasts, begun campaigning for a lower sulphur petrol formula and yesterday launched a pilot mobile app named "Burn Check" to reduce forest fire hotspots in Chiang Mai. The app is to increase compliance with a directive requiring farmers to request a permit to burn farm waste as it allows them to do so remotely.
However, PM2.5 is the issue that the CAPM needs to meet head-on. Until now, the task has been the sole responsibility of the Pollution Control Department (PCD), an agency with its hands already full dealing with a number of other environmental problems, such as burning in Chiang Mai, and scattered around the country.
Needless to say, Thailand's environmental data management and measuring techniques must be upgraded, particularly when it comes to the permissable levels of PM2.5 in our towns and cities.
To many environmental experts, the current threshold is far too lenient and perceived to be a compromise that puts public health in jeopardy in both the short and long term. The government's 50 µg/m³ limit is double the 25 µg/m³ considered acceptable by the World Health Organization.
The PCD was also content to present 24-hour averages even though commercial real-time monitoring solutions are commonplace, to the extent that members of the public can already access them on their mobile devices. It goes without saying that average figures have lessened the onus on the agency to publicise the peaks.
The CAPM needs to convince the public that it has been established as more than an act of tokenism by presenting a transparent and rigorous explanation for whatever measurement criteria it chooses to use over the coming months and years.
As well as its somewhat liberal air quality index, Thailand also lacks the big data to make the necessary connections between all sources of air pollution -- transport, energy projects, mass plantations, especially sugar cane and corn plantations, and forest fires.
For example, the Industry Ministry had yet to share factory emissions figures with either the PCD or the CAPM.
As the centre adds more state air monitoring stations in areas with serious haze problems, such as those near sugar cane plantations, industrial estates and biomass power plants, all the data produced must go back to a CAPM central database.
The centre needs to engage with communities and the public both in terms of providing access to reliable measurements as well as educating them in how to make positive, cleaner choices.
Without public support, this new task force risks becoming just another bureaucratic agency content to massage the figures rather than tackle the problem.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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