Thailand Fights Pollution with Royal Rainmakers

Health experts encourage Bangkok’s citizens to stay indoors due to severe smog. (GoodFreePhotos)

Health experts encourage Bangkok’s citizens to stay indoors due to severe smog. (GoodFreePhotos)

Thailand’s Central Administrative Court on February 7 ordered Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang, and the National Environmental Board to testify on their failure to mitigate the air pollution crisis that has devastated the Greater Bangkok area, reports the Strait Times.

According to the Nation, Greater Bangkok has consistently experienced an Air Quality Index (AQI) score above the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” threshold of 100 for over two months, with a high of 173 on February 6. The high level of PM2.5 particulates contributes to the dangerously low air quality. Experts call such particulate “one of the most dangerous constituents of air pollution because it can penetrate deep into the lungs,” adds AP. Scientists point to the slash-and-burn agricultural practices of sugar cane farmers, factory emissions, and car emissions to explain the situation.

The city’s limited supply of masks and air purifiers is rapidly depleting, causing some to experience symptoms such as coughing blood and itchy, burning eyes, reports the Independent. As a result, hundreds of schools have closed their doors, according to South China Morning Post. The Thai Chamber of Commerce estimates that a prolonged air pollution crisis would cost between 10 billion and 15 billion Thai baht ($433 million and $650 million) a month.

Thus far, the Thai government has deployed the Department of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation to carry out artificial rainmaking processes in an attempt to clump together hazardous small air pollutants, reports Channel News Asia. Government officials are exploring the feasibility of using fleets of drones that emit water and non-hazardous chemicals, according to Quartz. As a stopgap measure, however, the government mandated the closure of 600 factories that it deemed had been producing extreme levels of carbon emissions, says the Bangkok Post.

At the testimony, which will take place at the highest Bangkok appellate court, the Central Administrative Court, officials will be held accountable for their haphazard and ineffective mitigation strategies.

The magnitude of this crisis caused health experts to advise the public to spend the lunar new year indoors and refrain from burning joss paper and incense. Levels have dropped to 112 AQI at the time of publication, but a record two million Thai citizens have now downloaded air quality tracking apps. This demonstrates a growing awareness of the health and environmental risks associated with air pollution. Though environmental degradation data has yet to be published, according to South China Morning Post, high smog levels can seriously curb Bangkok’s income from tourism.

The world’s most visited city is currently in the middle of a serious air pollution crisis, which has the potential to pose harmful economic, health, and environmental challenges if it continues.