Fight haze battle better

Fight haze battle better

As the weather starts to get cooler, a sense of dread hangs in the air.

Winter is coming. So will the seasonal haze pollution that has been a major public health concern over the past few years.

Environmentalists and academics sounded the alarm earlier this week that they have seen no clear plan to cope with this year's fine dust problem.

In Bangkok and the Central Plains, the haze usually covers the cities during the winter months when denser air prevents fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and other pollutants from dispersing.

Speaking at a recent online forum, environmental expert Sonthi Kotchawat expressed his concern that not only has enforcement of measures to mitigate the haze problem been weak but the problem this year is expected to recur when the country reopens to foreign tourists without quarantine.

The risk to public health as well as the country's reputation as it struggles to revive the tourism sector should make the stakes high enough to warrant more aggressive action.

From an occasional nuisance, the smog problem has become a regular, real threat to people's health.

Just like the cyclical droughts and floods, the haze pollution has worsened -- at some points becoming so dangerous that schools have had to close temporarily when PM2.5 hit its peak, with youngsters and vulnerable groups prevented from leaving their homes. It also seems too complex a problem to be tackled effectively by the reductionistic Thai bureaucracy.

While the problem has become more persistent, mitigation efforts appear to be whimsical, if not ad hoc.

People have heard of plans to get all vehicles emitting black smoke off Bangkok's roads and failed attempts to strictly control plants that release pollutants.

Year in and year out, authorities say they will try to persuade farmers not to burn their fields as it will contribute PM2.5 pollutants to the air.

Yet smoky vehicles, many of them public buses, can be spotted here and there. As for agricultural burning, satellite images detecting hot spots show the activities continue unabated.

Ironically, what the government and many state agencies seem to have pursued more vigorously are shallow, showy activities that scientists have repeatedly told do not help improve the haze problem.

These include spraying water in public places, installing giant air purifiers and even producing artificial rain to bring down find dust particles. They contribute nothing so end up being a total waste of the precious budget and resources.

The environmentalists and academics speaking at the forum were right in pointing out that the agencies concerned, especially the Public Health, Industry, and Natural Resources and Environment ministries, must be more proactive.

This is evident by the Pollution Control Department insisting that it is well-prepared for the upcoming smog season but its plan is still being reviewed by the National Environmental Board and has yet to be approved by the cabinet.

The complexity of the haze problem warrants a multidisciplinary approach. It is clear all agencies concerned must work together. They can start by finding an evidence-based consensus as to what exactly the causes of the haze problem are. Then they can identify what measures must be implemented to mitigate it.

Winter is coming and it looks like the country will yet again be caught off guard and choked by the smog. This is simply not good enough.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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