What happens when the government turns its back on serious environmental issues? Bangkok happens. The failure of the Bangkok government to control urban development has left the Thai capital in dire straits. On its best days, Bangkok sat just over 5 feet above sea level. As it sits now, some of the city is already under water and much of the rest is in imminent danger. And, while it would be nice to lay all of the blame on the government, there are several other factors that have led to the city of 10 million to this titanic problem.
Bangkok is the New Venice
Bangkok was developed in almost exactly the same fashion as Venice, Italy. So, it may come as no surprise that the streets in Bangkok may soon be filled with gondoliers. Both cities were established on muddy flats 10 to 15 feet above sea level. The foundations of the buildings are not on solid ground so their weight pushes them into the soil a centimeter or so each year. This, in and of itself, isn’t a major problem. The need for fresh water, though, is.
All’s Not Well
Both cities drilled wells to reach underground aquifers to provide clean drinking water for their populations. When they tapped these resources and started to drain them, the muddy ground sunk even further. Pumping was stopped in Venice. This isn’t the case in Bangkok, where although it is overseen by the government, water is still pumped out of the aquifers daily. Before the cities were built, these aquifers were refilled by rain. Now, the rain water has trouble penetrating the hardscapes of the city and doesn’t find its way back into the aquifers as quickly, so they are not replenished.
Rising Sea Levels
The biggest threat, however, is the rapid rise in sea level that has been seen in the past century. Sea levels have risen an estimated 6 inches since 1920 (0.06 inches per year). Global warming proponents point to the nearly 0.11 inch average rise over the past 20 years as a sign that levels could rise up to 3 feet in the next hundred years. That could mean that Bangkok could be underwater by 2030. Conservative estimates give the city about 100 years before the streets are constantly covered by water.
What Can Be Done?
The truth is it may be too late to do anything for Bangkok. City planners have already signed on to build a new subway line and increase condo building in the city. They are regulating well water pumping, but there is little proactive action being taken. The short sighted politicians are focusing on getting elected and keeping their constituents happy instead of the impending doom that could befall the city. A single major storm could leave it in shambles like Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans.
Scientists all agree something needs to be done, but they don’t agree on what. Some believe that the city should add a protective dike system like the one in the Netherlands at a price of well over $3 billion (the same action that Venice is taking), while others believe that the city should be evacuated of at least 9 million residents and the capital moved north 15 miles or more. Of course, neither of these options are getting much support from the current government. They seem to be taking the ostrich route and sticking their heads in the sand.
Do you think there is a good solution to the Bangkok situation? We’ll be keeping a close eye on the developments.