Home to tropical beaches, royal palaces, and ancient ruins, Thailand is known far and wide for its rich natural and cultural biodiversity. Bountiful natural treasures and spectacular sights make Thailand a tourist’s paradise. However, citizens of the ‘land of the free’ seem to have fallen captive under the effect of urban pollution. The recent past has shown dreadful effects of urban pollution. Reports of the capital city shrouded in a blanket of smog rendering the skyline invisible have surfaced, raising concerns over the high levels of air pollution prevalent in the country.
Causes of urban pollution
The main contributors to the country’s air pollution are vehicular emissions from the city’s infamous traffic and agricultural burning. These particulates have been shown to affect the health of the citizens adversely and reduce their life expectancy. Even before the onset of the pandemic, face masks were compulsion in certain parts of the country as the citizens seemed to be choking under the black box of air. In accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines, the air quality in Thailand is considered moderately unsafe, with an annual concentration of PM 2.5 being 26 ug/m3 way above the normal level.
Environmental issues can be analyzed by studying the built to unbuilt ratio. Thailand’s urbanization rate has increased gradually over the last 50 years. This has led to issues of overcrowding, traffic congestion, and an increased level of air pollution. Urbanization in Thailand mainly stems from growth in the capital city of Bangkok. Bangkok has a dense urban fabric consisting of skyscrapers that have contributed greatly to air pollution.
Green spaces are instrumental in increasing the livability of a place. Studies show small scattered green pockets can handle urban heat more effectively as compared to larger pockets. Thailand’s increasing urban heat can be tackled primarily by increasing green cover. According to Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Bangkok has 6.99 m^2 green space which is less than the recommended 9m^2 prescribed by WHO. The government faces troubles in creating green spaces in Thailand due to a lack of proper policies. However, in the last 5 years, several policies and initiatives have been taken to address a number of issues, including lack of public spaces and underutilization of spaces.
Thailand, and in particular Bangkok, is known for its notorious traffic congestion. The cause of which can be traced back to the city layout which had little vision. Urbanization has led to the development of narrow roads or sois which have become the bottleneck for traffic. The urban sprawl of Bangkok without land use has led to a lack of connectivity and proper availability of public transportation.
The migration of people and a growing population have only aggravated the environmental issues that prevail in Thailand. At present, the country contributes to 0.9% of the total world population and ranks 20 in the list of countries by population. With 51% of its population staying in the urban areas, the time doesn’t seem far away when the cities will be saturated beyond their capacity. The only way to prevent the worsening of the situation is to implement strict renewal policies.
Architects and urban planners could work in collaboration with the Thailand Pollution Control Board to make the architecture in and around the city more sustainable and greener to fight the evils of urbanization.
Stefanos Fotiou (26 th. January,2021) “Deciphering the Black Box of Air Pollution Data in Thailand” Accessed via unescap.org.