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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

5. Urban Priorities for Action

Box 5.1 Ranking Bangkok's Urban Environmental Problems

The rapid economic growth of Bangkok, Thailand, has generated levels of pollutants and traffic congestion that carry significant costs in terms of both health and productivity. A recent World Bank study attempts to assess the magnitude of these costs and considers how to manage these problems with minimal damage to Bangkok's economy (1).


The World Bank study identifies air pollution from particulates and lead, surface water pollution due to micro-biological contamination, and traffic congestion as Bangkok's most serious urban environmental problems and indicates that even moderate reductions in air pollution and congestion could provide significant benefits. Reducing ambient concentrations of key pollutants by 20 percent from current levels, for example, would provide health benefits estimated at between $400 million and $1.6 billion for particulates and between $300 million and $1.5 billion for lead. For congestion, the study estimates that a 10 percent reduction in peak-hour trips would provide benefits of about $400 million annually.

The study did not consider benefits from reducing microbiological contamination of water, because discharges are primarily from households and therefore are not closely linked to economic growth.

Current trends in air pollutants show an alarming situation both for particulates and for lead. From 1983 to 1992, concentrations of particulates were up at all six monitoring stations in Bangkok; annual standards have been violated at every station in every year since 1988. Ambient lead concentrations have never been particularly high in Bangkok (and have decreased since the introduction of low-lead and unleaded gasoline), but the study argues that lead emissions may nevertheless be a significant source of exposure in Bangkok. Blood lead levels of children and adults are among the highest in the world. A study of 82 infants during 1989-90 found average lead levels of 18.5 micrograms per deciliter, nearly twice the level that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers dangerous.


The World Bank study found that the Bangkok economy operates quite efficiently and that there are therefore few opportunities for "win-win" initiatives that would improve environmental quality without slowing economic growth. There are nevertheless some cost- effective initiatives that deal with the highest-priority problems.

In the area of energy-related air pollution, the study recommends managing demand and imposing emissions standards and taxes. Demand-side management initiatives include the use of energy-efficient lighting and appliances for residential and commercial users, improved building designs, and the use of more energy-efficient motors and production processes in the industrial sector.

One way to reduce particulate emissions would be to devise incentives to reduce the use of lignite, a fuel that emits more particulates and sulfur dioxide than hard coal or fuel oil. Emissions standards that require new power plants to be fitted with low-sulfur control or combustion technologies and precipitators or a switch to hard coal (instead of lignite) and an increase in taxes on lignite also would be relatively cost-effective.

In the area of traffic congestion, the study recommends efforts both to reduce congestion and to reduce emissions from vehicles. Cost-effective programs include efforts to phase out lead in gasoline and to reduce the sulfur content of diesel fuel. Another priority is emissions standards for two-stroke motorcycles, which would reduce emissions (by 90 percent for particulates) to the level of four-stroke motorcycles. Higher taxes on transport fuels also could help restrain the growth of private transportation. Congestion problems also could be reduced by expanding flexible work hours, upgrading bus services, and improving traffic management.

References and Notes

1. Box is based on The World Bank, Thailand: Mitigating Pollution and Congestion Impacts in a High-Growth Economy (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1994).

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