Thailand has been in the news for many reasons: the military coup to oust ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, unrest in the south, bombings, prostitution, AIDS. But it is recently propelled into the limelight for a different reason. It records a rare success story in managing environmental pollution.

bangkok.jpgBangkok, the capital of Thailand, was notorious for its traffic jams, smog and high levels of air pollution. The city choked with black smoke from exhaust pipes and toxic fumes from industries. But a group of dedicated environmentalists have worked wonders on the city. While motor vehicles have increased in Bangkok over the years, the levels of small dust particles that are highly detrimental to the lungs have dropped significantly. This means that pollution has been kept under check.

How did Bangkok achieve this miracle within such a relatively short time? Thai officials overcame intense lobbying by western oil companies and Japanese car companies to impose stricter emission controls in accordance to European models. This was done gradually from scratch for Thailand had no emission standards at all before 1992. Oil companies were cajoled into producing cleaner and more environmentally-friendly fuel. Taxis and motorcycles were required by law to operate on liquefied petroleum gas which causes less pollution. The local government ensured that streets were washed to settle the dust. Buddhist crematoriums did away with traditional wood-burning pyres and adopted electric incinerators instead.

All these translate into a success story for Bangkok. More importantly, this city proves that environmental polluted can be brought to heel with concerted and determined efforts without overly high costs or sophisticated technology. Now citizens and visitors to Bangkok alike can breathe easier and enjoy better health.