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With more then 10 million residents, Bangkok is the largest urban area and primate city of Thailand. However, today, the city that was once called The Venice of the East’ has been plagued, literally with a dilemma that could potentially doom Bangkok within the next ten years or so: water pollution. Bangkok’s problem of water pollution has depended on and been a product of various aspects, some of them being the rising population and domestic waste, growth of tourism and industrial waste, etc. A study developed in 1988 by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) shows that domestic waste accounts for 75% of the total wastewater generated in Bangkok, while industrial sources accounted for the remaining 25% (Hinkado). Either way, this issue has several consequences in aspects of economy, society and also politics, a few of them being its effects on tourism, aquatic life and also its impacts on Buddhist and other religious temples, etc. However, among these, the biggest consequence of Bangkok’s water pollution is its impact on health and sanitation. When addressing the preceding issue, one is therefore undoubtedly forced to deal with aspects such as why health and sanitation is the biggest consequence, what solutions and intended consequences could be generated, and also what unintended consequences could arrive out of potential solutions. Most residents of Bangkok have very little access to sewerage networks, and this often results in wastewater being dumped into the rivers and canals, often for lack of another disposal method. Even in the case of residents who do use sewerage networks, because Bangkok’s sewerage system is rather poorly constructed, liquid waste often flows out of the tanks and cesspits, contaminating the drinking water supply. Consequently, poor sanitary conditions prevail in many parts of Bangkok. According to Bangkok’s department of health, in case of acute diarrhea, about 45,000 and 40,000 cases were found in 1994 and 1995 respectively, with the figures being even higher in 1997 (Hinkado). Furthermore, residents that live in close proximity to the polluted waterways, such as water taxi drivers and floating market vendors, often suffer from bacterial infections and skin irritations (Han). Accordingly, water pollution and its consequences on Bangkok’s level of health have affected a range of communities. Communities of lower living standards, such as ‘klong’ residents in Bangkok are a communal group which is greatly affected by water pollution. Klong residents often access water for daily usage directly from the contaminated water sources, or they lack the resources and funds to purify water properly prior to consumption. Illness that is caused due to polluted water sources could seriously disrupt a klong resident’s (particularly a bread-winner’s) day to day life: work and income to support daily life would be put on hold, thus economically crippling him. Additionally, a resident would also have to spend or set aside extra money to treat diseases caused by the polluted water sources. A further 1
important fact to consider is that the economy of a country depends vastly on its labor force, and when the labor fore becomes weaker and weaker in aspects of physical health, this directly affects the economy and its sustainability. A low rate of sanitation in aspect of water increases the chances of disease and epidemics, hence becoming a potential threat to labor forces such as militia, government authorities, factories and industries, etc. However, private hospitals, medical companies and other healthcare institutions might benefit from the rise in disease due to water pollution, as it results in the economic growth of the private medical sector. On the other hand, as the rate of disease rises, government medical expenditure also increases, further draining Bangkok’s funds and economy. The decline in health levels is the biggest consequence of water pollution in Bangkok, and effective solutions to the dire situation are much needed. Bangkok’s industries utilize water mostly for cleaning and manufacturing purposes, and used water is often directly disposed into the city’s canals and rivers without treatment. This discharged water usually contains harmful chemicals, toxins as well as heavy metals and non-biodegradable particles that leads to further water pollution and disease. An effective solution to this would be to encourage major, large-scale industries to relocate in areas outside of Bangkok, by way of tax breaks and duty exemption, and also enforcing of relevant, existing laws, and ensuring that these are carried out properly. This would result in lesser volumes of un-treated water and waste being discharged into canals and waterways, thus reducing the level of water pollution in Bangkok to a certain extent. Furthermore, an increase in industries outside of Bangkok will result in a lesser number of employees residing within Bangkok, thus also reducing the levels of domestic water pollution. In addition, a lesser amount of industries operating within Bangkok would result in a reduced level of harmful gas emission, and thus less acid rain –an environmental phenomenon that contaminates water. A further solution to improve the situation of water pollution would be to improve the sewerage system in Bangkok. Every effort must be made to connect the domestic sewer arteries into the main metropolitan sewer system for a systematic disposal. This involves a large amount of funding that the government would have to locate through the national budget or by way of foreign aid. The project should entail a viable, long-lasting and altogether new sewer system, or a suitable rehabilitation of the current system. The establishment of a reliable, new sewer system will completely eliminate the seepage of pollutants to the ground water and drinking water supply, resulting in a reduced level of water- related health issues. Although the preceding solutions have the potential to better the issue of water pollution in Bangkok, if not eradicate it, unintended consequences to these solution are to be expected. For example, corresponding to the first solution mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the items produced in the industrial areas outside of Bangkok will have to be transported via longer distances to the harbors and airports for export and domestic transport. Furthermore, as Bangkok is a developing 2
country its modern industries are dependant on foreign expertise for sustainability. Foreigners, particularly Europeans have a tendency to prefer city centers, for reasons such as communication and hotels, etc. Hence there may be a reluctance to travel all the way out of the city to the industrial areas. Thus, the government will have to spend additional funds for infrastructure development such as roads in the newly located areas out of the city. In addition, if the industries are moved into a village area, is will disrupt the lives of the villagers. In adherence to the second solution mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the laying of new sewer lines will involve extensive underground excavations, resulting in traffic congestion, thus affecting the economy, in the context that the container vehicles transporting export goods to the sea and water heads will be interrupted by long delays. During the period of disconnection of the domestic sewer arteries to the main system, the authorities will have to place an alternative and effective system to dispose domestic waste from households, and the failure to do so will result in further aggravating the problem. This could be implemented by systematic deployment of a ‘gully emptier’. Furthermore, there will be reluctance in foreign tourists arriving in the city due to construction and congestion, of which the greater part of the economy depends on. The excavations of areas adjacent to the roads entail in temporarily relocating the small scale vendors, and thereby losing accessibility of certain goods and services to the tourists and local population. Cleaning up Bangkok and restoring its title of the majestic ‘Venice of the East’ will neither be an easy task, nor a rapid one. A step by step process that clearly analyses and presents the best solutions to the issue of water pollution and its consequences –including health levels- will be most effective. Accordingly, it is possible to state that deteriorating health levels is the biggest consequence of water pollution in Bangkok, and that when analyzing such an issue it is important that one should bear in mind aspects such as why health is the biggest consequence, what possible solutions exist to the problem, and what unintended consequences can arise as a result of these solutions. Additionally, it is notable that a nation’s labor force is the key contributor to its economy, and the health of the labor force is vital in for a nation’s or city’s economic growth. Therefore it is of paramount importance that the consequences of health and sanitation as a result of water pollution in Bangkok be given the highest priority.
Bibliography 1. Hinkado, Ensai. "Water pollution in Bangkok." Www.rrcap.unep.org. 2001. Bangkok state of the environment. 3 Nov. 2008 <http://www.rrcap.unep.org/reports/soe/bangkok_water.pdf>. 2. Han, Justin. “Bangkok’s Canals: Not Just Dirty But Potentially Deadly”. www.mindfully.org. 5 Nov. 2008 < http://www.mindfully.org/Water/2003/Bangkok-Canals-Deadly17aug03.htm>. 3