Traffic congestion in the evening around the Wong Wien Yai intersection

Based on the analysis of traffic congestion and travel in more than 1,000 cities in 50 countries, Bangkok is ranked the 32nd busiest area in the world and the second busiest in Asia, according to the INRIX 2022 Global Traffic Scorecard.

The Wong Wien Yai intersection connects four roads — Prajadhipok Road, Phetkasem Road, Lat Ya Road and Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Road. It is also known as the most congested intersection in Bangkok.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha


Story: Radda Larpnun/ Thiti Wannamontha 
Photos: Thiti Wannamontha
The Photo Essay series: SDGs I The Depth of Field
APRIL 2, 2023

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), by 1981 Bangkok’s population was 50 times higher than the second-largest city in Thailand. Bangkok’s growth increased further when the country industrialized rapidly. And come the challenges

By the year 2000, Bangkok had half of the country’s urban population and accounted for 35% of its GDP. Data available from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) shows the city’s population, as recorded in 2021, was around 5.53 million people. The continuous increase in population due to the city’s expansion makes Bangkok the metropolis with the highest population density in Thailand, which poses multiple challenges. One of the critical issues involves the environment.

Survey results from the Thailand Environment Institute found environmental problems faced by people in Bangkok. The top three problems demanding urgent attention are PM2.5 air pollution (39.2%), garbage problems (34.2%) and green areas (8.1%).

The PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) crisis is affecting many provinces in Thailand, including Bangkok, every year. The fine dust situation in the Bangkok area begins to aggravate from November to March, during the winter months. The weather is calm, and the winds are stable, causing dust accumulation. The primary source of dust in Bangkok is road transport.

Garbage is another chronic problem in Bangkok. The capital is the city that produces the most waste in Thailand, due to various reasons, such as population increase from the city’s expansion, the increasing number of tourists, etc.

A 20-year development plan for Bangkok (2013-2032) includes the concept of zero waste management by reusing (recycling) and reducing waste to a minimum, and disposing of the remainder (residue). The goal is to reduce waste by 20% from the year 2013 until 2032, by almost 10,000 tons of waste per day. The evaluation report on the reduction and sorting of waste in Bangkok during the years 2014-2017 by the National Institute of Development Administration’s Environmental Development Administration, however, found that Bangkok could not reduce the waste as targeted.

This was caused by the lack of waste separation by the people of Bangkok from the beginning. Sorting the waste before discarding is at the heart of sustainable waste management. If Bangkok residents fail to cooperate in such matters, the city may overflow with garbage.

The third environmental problem that Bangkokians want to solve is “green space”, as urban areas have been filled with residential and office buildings, roads, electric train tracks and other buildings. Unfortunately, the emergence of these buildings comes at the cost of green space.

Urban green space is one of the indicators of the well-being of urban people. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set criteria for cities with suitable environments that 1 population should have 9-15 green spaces per square meter. However, in Bangkok, still, far from the above criteria, it was found that Bangkok has only 7 square meters of green space per 1 inhabitant.

The green area has both direct and indirect benefits, whether promoting the urban population’s physical and mental health or reducing air pollution. But it must consider the equality of access to green spaces for all groups of people, whether children, adults, the elderly, or the disabled, which is regarded as the most crucial factor in developing green spaces for urban use.

In addition to the three environmental problems mentioned above, Bangkok faces many environmental problems, such as water pollution, noise pollution and deviant views, etc. These environmental problems are regarded as issues that the public, private, and public must pay attention to with collaborative solutions, whether planning a policy or lifestyle changes for Bangkok to become closer to “A Sustainable City.”

A plane prepares to land at Don Mueang Airport on the day when PM2.5 air pollution in Bangkok exceeded the safety level. 
On February 2, 2023, the PM2.5 situation from IQAir data at 7am found that “Bangkok” was the city with the 7th highest air pollution in the world, with an air index of 183 AQI.
Don Mueang is one of the areas where PM2.5 exceeds the standard (50 micrograms per cubic meter), with the measured value in the Don Mueang area as of February 2, 2023, at 95 micrograms per cubic meter.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

Traffic congestion in Bangkok causing toxic pollution

According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), the primary source of PM2.5 in Bangkok and its vicinity is the road transport sector.

In this regard, measures have been taken under the National Agenda Action Plan to reduce PM2.5 dust. One of these measures is the issuance by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s of black smoke standards for vehicles using ignition engines with effect from April 13, 2022.

The PCD overview of the black smoke extraction point from October 1, 2021, to March 9, 2022, in the Bangkok area from the cumulative inspection of 143,750 cars, 38,349 cars found black smoke exceeding the standard cumulative value (26.67%).
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

Garbage is seen dumped on the roadside in the On Nut area
Irresponsible people dump their garbage on the roadside and in empty spaces. Even though Thailand has laws related to littering, such as the Act on the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country, B.E. 2535 (1992), it is still rare to see arrests and prosecution of people dumping garbage on the side of the road.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha
Staff at a hospital in the Ratchaprasong area are seen dumping toxic waste into an open hospital area.
The COVID-19 pandemic situation resulted in the amount of infectious waste in Bangkok increasing to almost 100 tons per day, while there are only two infectious-waste incinerators in Bangkok. Two disposal centres of Nong Khaem garbage and the other two kilns of the On Nut Center have an ability to incinerate an average of only 40 tons of infectious waste per day.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha
The Chao Phraya River at the Tha Prachan pier area can be seen carpeted by leftover water hyacinths.
Water hyacinth is a weed that is resistant to environmental conditions and grows quickly — in one month, one water hyacinth plant may propagate up to 1,000 plants.
During the rainy season every year, the number of water hyacinths in the Chao Phraya River has been found to increase. This causes problems by obstructing the flow of water and impeding drainage. The water hyacinth can reduce water flow by about 40 per cent.
In 2022, the BMA’s Environment Agency collected solid waste and weeds floating in the Chao Phraya River. It contained up to 11-15 tons of garbage daily, 99% being water hyacinth.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha
Illegal canal settlements along the Prem Prachakorn canal (klong) in Lak Si district encroach on the channel, creating drainage problems, before implementation of the Baan Mankong (Secure house) project. 

The urban-poor housing development project has solved the problem of creeping housing along canals and upgraded the city’s drainage network to prevent flooding, including building a household wastewater management system before discharge into the canals and improving the quality of life. 

The Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) has supported the development of 35 informal canal-side communities along the Lad Phrao canal, located in Wang Thong Lang, Huai Khwang, Chatuchak, Bang Khen, Lak Si, Don Mueang and Sai Mai. As a result, 3,106 housing units have been completed, and 432 houses are being constructed from the total target of 50 communities, totaling 7,069.

As for Klong Prem Prachakorn, in Chatuchak, Lak Si, Don Mueang and Lak Hok Sub-district, Muang district, Pathum Thani province, there are a total of 38 communities, a total of 6,386 households. The project has been implemented in 10 communities, with 447 houses completed and 509 houses being built by CODI. It has been operating since 2022, including 17 communities. If implemented as per the program, at least 2,500 households can develop housing for communities along the Klong Prem.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

The kind of chaotic power lines at the pedestrian overpass seen in Rangsit are a sight throughout Bangkok and other provinces. Most of them are not electric cables of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority or the Provincial Electricity Authority, but telecommunication cables and communication equipment of private and other state enterprises including cable TV, internet, home telephone, CCTV, communication equipment, and all the wires the villagers use, and the shops secretly tap into. 

The shocking aspect is that many of those lines are illegally set up, with careless workmanship that do not meet safety standards, posing a danger to the lives of locals passing by, and making the city look unattractive.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

Food stores use sidewalks to lay out tables for their customers at night in Lad Phrao, which creates problems for pedestrians.

In 2018, CNN’s travel website selected Bangkok as the No. 1 street food city. However, street food holds a certain charm for tourists and makes Bangkok lively without systematic management. Unfortunately, street food can also cause social problems, such as depriving pedestrian rights.

Although many Bangkokians want to reclaim the sidewalks from various food stores, low-income groups rely on sidewalk stores. A research by WIEGO, Resource Document No. 9, in 2018 found that 60% of people with incomes below 9,000 baht per month buy things from sidewalk shops daily. And if there are no shops on these sidewalks, people will have to buy more expensive food, averaging 357 baht per month.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

License plates hang from a tree near a bus stop in front of the city market. Many of these plates fell off the vehicles while driving through flooded roads. The four corners of the city market flood regularly after heavy rains.

Flooding is a chronic problem in Bangkok every year, with some areas prone to severe inundation. A lot of times, the license plate falls off the vehicle while navigating through the flood waters.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

Numerous campaign signs are attached to electricity poles along the footpath in the Don Mueang area of Bangkok in the countdown to  the May 2023 general election.
Boards and party campaign signs are a common sight in election season. Campaign signs will appear in various places, on power poles, tree or even a seat on a public bus.
The boards sometimes hinder visibility for vehicle drivers, raising the risk of accidents. These billboards also add to the waste disposal and become a source of pollution after their use.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha
A worker sits at the back of a pickup truck while going out to work at the Taksin Bridge.
A BMA survey during the COVID-19 period found that up to 409 construction workers’ camps were scattered in every district in Bangkok with a total of 62,169 workers, comprising 26,134 Thai workers (42 per cent), and 36,035 migrant workers (58 per cent) mostly from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
These workers’ daily lives start at around 5am to 6am. They stand and wait for their employers to pick them up to work as a group and return to the accommodation around 6pm, with wages of between 500 to 800 baht per day.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha
Pracharat Bamphen Road, Huai Khwang District, an area known as “Huai Khwang Province”, is increasingly known as the second Chinatown of Bangkok because they sell goods, food and various services belonging to the China along both sides of the road.
Pracharat Bamphen Road in Huai Khwang District, is a road just 400 meters long, consisting of shops, restaurants, and service facilities on both sides of the road. Information from the revenue department of Huai Khwang District Office in 2016 found that out of the 181 booths, more than 60 were Chinese businesses, of which 44 were unregistered shops.
Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha
Homelessness is a problem that occurs in big cities. In almost every city worldwide, there are gaps and inequalities from cross-cutting issues in many dimensions, including structural, economic, social, environmental, and even personal mistakes. After the COVID-19 pandemic, it was reported that the number of homeless people in Bangkok had increased by more than 30% — from more than 1,300 people to 1,700-1,800 people. 
Photo: B.Tribune

The horizon of a big city like Bangkok burns bright even at night. The construction of large projects seems to continue all the time and seems to have no end. But, on the other hand, the city that never sleeps is constantly evolving with modernization. 

Mass-transit projects, expressways, residences, and years of construction have had multi-dimensional impacts, with the hope of bettering the lives of citizens once those projects are completed.
Photo: B.Tribune

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities)
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Since being conceived in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, “sustainable development” has become a buzzword that has helped guide development around the world. The goals have followed a steady trajectory of increased emphasis — from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, strengthening the world’s new development paradigm. At the heart of the SDGs addressed by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are 17 key goals that call for action by all countries to end poverty and other deprivations. These must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests, according to the UN. The only challenge is: how to translate all those goals into a strong commitment and action. To flesh out the ideas so that people can understand them easily and therefore take action, Bangkok Tribune has come up with a new project: “SDGs I The Depth of Field”, using its signature style of photojournalism — storytelling through photo essays — to interpret and translate the ideas and challenges behind the goals into powerful visual stories told through the lenses of noted photographers.