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Saigon air approaches ‘cigarette smoke’ as Fall begins

By Calvin Godfrey   September 18, 2016 | 06:00 am GMT+7
Saigon air approaches ‘cigarette smoke’ as Fall begins
Fall always brings the worst air quality to the Saigon, owing to seasonal crop burning and weather patterns, according to an expert. Photo courtesy of Vietnam News Agency

Fall in Ho Chi Minh City means a whole lot of pollution.

The future of southern Vietnam’s air quality looks black indeed.

This week, the U.S. Consulate on leafy Le Duan Street reported “unhealthy” levels of particulate pollution, mainly during peak commuting hours.

Director of IQ Air Aron Szabo claims clients in the city’s outlying districts report the kinds of particulate pollution one typically finds in a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“You can put out a cigarette,” he said. “But this is a developing country.”

Szabo has spent the last five years selling high-end filtration systems to everything from hospitals to housewives. He claims Fall always brings the worst air quality to the city, owing to seasonal crop burning and weather patterns.

“Normally summer is really bad,” he said. “October and November are really, really bad.”

The construction of high-rises, he estimated, would disrupt winds that kept the air over the historically low-rise city of roughly eight million people on the clear side.

The city government doesn’t publish air quality data and recently announced plans to replace damaged air monitors while intimating that their stock of nine air monitors broke four years ago.

Thanh Nien reported that the system would cost $3.5 million.

Dang Van Dung of the Southern Meteorological Forecast Center said there’s no way to know, yet, whether the haze will return.Last October, wanton slash and burn agriculture in Indonesia added an acrid haze to Saigon’s considerable pollution problems. Officials in southern Vietnam initially described the problem as “fog” before admitting it was likely caused by the fires.

“If there are [Indonesian] forest fires and seasonal winds from the south west, we may have the same problem,” he told VnExpress. “There’s no way we can know for sure from here in Saigon.”

During the height of last year’s crisis, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the BBC it would take three years to bring the problem to heel.

The Indonesian embassy in Hanoi didn’t respond to a list of questions about the problem and analyzing existing data proves difficult to do. Channel News Asia reported that the agency tasked with beating back the fires proudly announced that six affected provinces had already declared a state of emergency (double the previous year) allowing for a more rapid response to fires. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that slash and burn fires had spread to a previously untouched province.

Haze or no, however, Vietnam’s national energy plan calls for the construction of coal-fired plants throughout the power-starved south—a plan Greenpeace warned could claim 25,000 lives by 2030.

This month, officials announced that they would scale up the use of costly diesel-fired plants to prevent power outages in the meantime.

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