Bao Loc Town smokes heavily in November as people dry their coffee after the harvest season. Photo by Le Van Cuong

Vietnam smoking like a chimney and paying the price

Air pollution has become a serious health hazard, but Vietnam is unable to kick its smoking habit.

The Center of Hands-on Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment (CHANGE), in collaboration with the German Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, is organizing a "Feel the Air" photo exhibition that aims to raise public awareness on air pollution in Vietnam. The exhibition is free and open to the public from April 17-28 at the Deutsches Haus in HCMC's District 1.

People sort through trash in a smoky landfill, Kon Tum Province, Central Highlands. Photo by Pham Huy Dang

In Hanoi, Pham Van Dong Street is referred to as "the road of suffering" for its heavy traffic and construction activity, choking and squeezing commuters. Photo by Pham Van Hoc

Smoke bellows out of two chimneys of a thermal power plant in Quang Ninh Province, polluting the atmosphere of the famous Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO heritage site. Photo by Tran Ngoc Nam

A man burns straw on a field near Hue in central Vietnam. Photo by Nong Thanh Toan

Out of 732 photos submitted for a contest held to select the best for the ongoing exhibition, 34 were chosen. From May 13-17, these photographs will be displayed in a bus that will move to five major locations in the city. The bus will also carry information on AQI indicators (air quality index).

Smog casts a much longer shadow than the nation’s tallest building. Photo by Phan Thi Khanh

Hanoi and Saigon were recently named among the 15 most polluted cities in Southeast Asia. Hanoi in particular was ranked the second most polluted, according to the latest World Air Quality Report by AirVisual.

Hanoi's average PM2.5 level last year was 40.8 micrograms per cubic meter of air as opposed to 45.8 in 2017, according to Switzerland-based air quality monitor IQAir AirVisual's 2018 World Air Quality Report. Saigon’s air quality worsened last year to 26.9 from 23.6 in 2017.

Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is regarded as the pollutant with the most adverse health impacts. Released by vehicles, industries and natural sources like dust, its width is a fraction of that of human hair, meaning it can get into the lungs and cause a number of diseases, including lung cancer.

Smog clouds a jam-packed Hanoi street. Photo by Nguyen Viet

In HCMC's District 8, a girl riding pillion covers her nose and mouth and that of her friend to avoid inhaling too many dust. Photo by Nguyen Minh

According to the Institute for Environment and Resources in Ho Chi Minh, 99 percent of the total CO2 emissions in HCMC comes from traffic activity.

Waste is burnt in the open in the Phuc Tan neighborhood near Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge. Photo by Nguyen Thi

A bird in a cage flaps its wings as a factory in Binh Thuan Province belches smoke. Photo by Tran Van Tuy

A young boy peers through a glass that showcases how badly polluted the outside air is. Photo by Tran Dinh

Thach Son Commune in northern Phu Tho Province is known as "cancer village" because of many deaths caused by the dreaded disease as a result of air pollution. Photo by Nguyen Vu Hau

Roads in the countryside of northern Ha Nam Province become dangerous after harvest season with rice field debris being burnt on roadsides. Photo by Luong The Tuan

Over 60,000 people died in Vietnam in 2016 from strokes, heart diseases, lung cancer and a myriad of other ailments, all related to air pollution. That means each day, 165 died simply because they breathed.

Hanoi’s department of environment said the ratio of citizens that have pneumonia or have to be hospitalized for discomfort when breathing could be double by 2020 if the city does not have any means to reduce air pollution.

According to findings from Vietnam's National Center for Socio-Economic Information and Forecast (NCIF), both natural and manmade environmental problems will continue to consume about 0.6 percent of Vietnam's annual GDP until 2020.

A photo taken at 6 a.m. in Saigon shows how heavy the smog is even as the city wakes up. Photo by Kieu Tan Tien

Photos courtesy of CHANGE

Story by Dang Khoa

By Dang Khoa