'Green lung' of Bang Kachao holds much promise
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'Green lung' of Bang Kachao holds much promise

Bang Kachao, known as the 'green lung' of the capital, is seen with the city's skyscrapers in the background. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Bang Kachao, known as the 'green lung' of the capital, is seen with the city's skyscrapers in the background. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

Bang Kachao is a small leaf-shaped peninsula surrounded by the meandering Chao Phraya River. It is a part of Phra Pradaeng district in Samut Prakan province. Yet, physically, it is located near important Bangkok districts like Yannawa, Klong Toey, Phra Khanong, and Bang Na.

Situated on the southern edge of the Thai capital, it covers about 12,000 rai or 2,000 hectares and is mostly a mix of agricultural and residential land with a population of less than 50,000 people, and much more green space compared to a similar-sized area on the Bangkok side. It is dubbed Bangkok's "green lung" and was named Asia's "best urban oasis" by Time magazine in 2006.

The rural atmosphere, abundant green space, and proximity to central Bangkok have made Bang Kachao a popular spot for nature lovers and cyclists. The area is also a target of developers leading to land use conflicts between commercial developers and environmental conservation groups. Past efforts to turn Bang Kachao into a conservation zone have not achieved much success so far. In 2019, the government enacted legislation for the restoration of Bang Kachao as a protected natural environment.

The International Research Associate for Happy Societies (IRAH) recently received support from the Swedish government through the Stockholm Environment Institute's Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET) programme in implementing a six-month project on creating "Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue in Addressing Community-based Water Management Problems in Bang Kachao Green Space".

The outcome of the study shows that a silo working culture among national and local governments has resulted in incoherent, non-integrated strategies and action plans for managing and preserving green spaces in Bang Kachao. The study found there is no inter-sectoral cooperation, resulting in mostly piecemeal and disjointed rather than holistic solutions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended having a minimum of 9 square metres of green space per individual to maintain a healthy living environment in a city. But recent figures for Bangkok suggest it can only, at best, reach 7 sqm. Some sources say 3 sqm would be optimistic in certain areas.

The Thai capital is thus in great need of more green space in a now predominantly concrete environment. Bangkok governor Chadchat Sittipunt is aware of this critical problem and is trying his best to encourage the creation of more public green spaces in areas that fall under the jurisdiction of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). The BMA Council is currently trying to enact a bill to do exactly that.

Bangkok also has a rather poor record for its air quality due to pollution from various sources, such as industries and vehicular exhaust, in combination with poor circulation and dispersion of pollutants due to the weather conditions at certain times of the year. Periodically high PM2.5 levels are increasingly affecting the health and well-being of residents in the metropolis.

In contrast, neighbouring Bang Kachao has relatively more trees and greenery per unit area and is, in reality serving as a significant "lung" helping to absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide along with other air pollutants while producing life-sustaining oxygen -- free of charge at the moment -- to parts of Samut Prakan province and adjacent areas of the Thai capital.

City governor Chadchart recently said, "There is more than 1,000 rai (160 hectares) of unused land in the capital" that can be planted with trees and created into parks and green spaces.

But Bang Kachao's area is twelve times that, and being a more sizeable and integrated patch of greenery, it is already making a beneficial contribution and serving as a nearby green space and recreational area for Bangkok residents while earning some income in return.

So it makes sense to consider Bangkok and Bang Kachao as "fraternal" -- like Siamese twins who should collaborate more on inter-connected issues between the two localities. As such, a comprehensive assessment is recommended to: develop a quantitative baseline on the benefits Bang Kachao is providing in terms of environmental, recreational, educational and health-enhancing services and to restore and preserve Bang Kachao's green space as a "lung" for purer air.

Local communities are also facing issues like wastewater and land use problems. These must be addressed and solved with inclusive cooperation from stakeholders, including the central government, provincial and local administrations, and local residents.

This would help identify the cost/burden as well as benefit-sharing mechanisms in a more balanced, coordinated, inclusive, and participatory manner, which can create win-win outcomes for riparian communities on the Chao Phraya.

Sauwalak Kittiprapas is chairperson of IRAH. Apichai Sunchindah is deputy chair of IRAH. and Ridhi Saluja is a research fellow at SEI Asia.

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