Environment minister lists urgent measures to combat pollution

By Gia Chinh    December 20, 2019 | 05:00 pm PT
Environment minister lists urgent measures to combat pollution
High-rise buildings in Hanoi could be barely seen through the haze on December 14, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.
The Vietnamese environment minister has called for urgent measures to reduce air pollution, from improving monitoring system to changing people's use of coal stoves.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha said air quality monitoring systems need to be installed, traffic needs to be distributed around cities rather than have vehicles concentrated in certain areas, construction sites need to be covered in order not to spread dust, and people’s daily habits need to be changed.

The air quality in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two largest cities, has relentlessly deteriorated to dangerous levels and become a critical health concern in recent months.

Ha, speaking at a meeting on Thursday, said authorities in both cities must install air quality monitoring systems.

They should not compromise on this, and should set up a sufficient number of monitoring stations to provide accurate information about air quality twice a day to the public, he said.

When the air quality is at hazardous levels, the government must immediately inform the public together with the protective measures the health ministry recommends, he said.

"On those days people must be warned early enough to arrange their work schedule [and] especially enable students to stay at home if necessary."

Water trucks should be used to wash the dust off streets on days the air is unbreathable and traffic must be diverted from densely populated areas with serious levels of pollution, he said.

"The police need to prevent personal vehicles from moving into areas with high traffic density while trucks entering the inner areas of Hanoi must be covered," he said.

The environment ministry would coordinate with the construction ministry to issue environmental regulations for construction works, he said. Builders would have clear instructions on "where to put materials, how to dispose waste, and how to shield construction works."

A construction project on Belt Road 2 in Hanoi is underway. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do.

Work on Hanoi’s Belt Road 2 is ongoing. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do.

Hanoi has over 1,000 construction sites currently as does HCMC. Besides, there are industrial production facilities in both cities that affect air quality.

Hanoi also suffers from seasonal straw burning and 60,000 charcoal stoves are used daily in the area.

The minister’s other solution related to people's daily habits. He instructed district authorities in Hanoi to prevent people from burning straw after harvests to reduce air pollution and encourage the public to stop using charcoal stoves especially on polluted days.

"By 2021 Hanoi needs to eliminate coal stoves."

In the long term the ministry would amend the Law on Environmental Protection and regulations to restructure industries that use fossil fuels that cause pollution, he promised.

It would work with authorities in the two cities to speed up adoption of emission standards for vehicles, he said.

"Motorbikes and cars plying in big cities must be held to higher standards than elsewhere."

He wanted Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to take the lead in operating public transport vehicles on clean fuel.

Hanoi has around seven million vehicles for its 7.5 million population, with two million more coming in from other places. 

It has been blanketed repeatedly by a thick haze in the last few months.

In October authorities said the pollution was caused by traffic emissions, coal, construction, and animal farms.

In HCMC, home to around 10 million vehicles and 1,000 large factories, the environment department has suggested that the city's air be detected three times per day on a daily basis, instead of every third day as being done at the present.

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