Bikes out, trees in: Hanoi tackles air pollution woes

An article by Mai Nguyen for Reuters has highlighted the Vietnamese Government’s intention to get rid of motorbikes in the city by 2030, and to increase greenery to tackle air pollution.

Mai States that “Pollution is a political risk for Communist-ruled Vietnam, which has witnessed environmental protests to save trees or demonstrate against a steel firm accused of polluting the sea.” She writes that “I usually joke with my friends, the more polluted the air is, the more prosperous I get,” said Cao Xuan Trung, a Hanoi dealer in air purifiers, who expects monthly revenue to double by 2020, from 3 billion dong ($131,199) now, a value that is already 75 times higher than when he started in 2013.



To combat air pollution, Pune scientists offer cost-effective alternative to crop burning

Scientists from the Bioenergy Group at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) have developed a mixture of anaerobic fungi from farm waste, generated mainly from rice straw. “This culture of anaerobic fungi, called methanogens, which we have devised from rice straw, can be directly mixed in the bio-digestors along with the rest of the farm waste to obtain manure. Once added, the farmers can obtain processed manure within a fortnight.

Currently, at least 20 to 30 days are required to obtain manure in this manner,” said S S Dagar, one of the researchers in the team. The larger aim of the team, however, is to curb the secondary pollution caused by crop burning and help farmers earn some additional money from the waste generated from their own land.

“While farmers take two to three crops every year, little is done to maintain the fertility of the soil. One of the traditional ways is burning of crop residue, but its ill-effects are worsening. With this environment-friendly solution obtained from crop residue itself, the nutrients can be put back into the soil for the next season,” explained P K Dhakephalkar, senior scientist at ARI.

“There will be about 135 types of methanogens devised from numerous environments. This will be the country’s first culture bank and we will encourage researchers to use it for scientific studies,” added the senior scientist.

A breath of fresh air

A positive result for Vietnamese officials has recently been released, stating that Hanoi’s air pollution has seen reductions this year compared to previous years. Air pollution was considerably lower around the national holidays this year then it was in past years. 

Some places, particularly Pham Van Dong street, have seen in increase in air pollution this year, however. Pham Van Dong street is where CIAT offices are based and driving along this road is part of my daily commute. I can definitely confirm that air quality is poor in the area with large amounts of construction and roadworks taking place on a daily basis. A facemask is a must if one is to brave this street during rush hour.

Here is a link to the article in question 

How does air pollution affect human health?

Hi all. This week I have been looking at the health impacts of air pollution on populations. It has become clear to me that any city experiencing high levels of pollution, such as that from Sulphur Dioxide, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide and PM2.5/10 will also suffer from increased hospital admissions and mortality.

Individuals living in a polluted area for a long time are more at risk of respiratory illnesses, heart attacks, cancer and strokes than those of their counterparts in less polluted areas. It doesn’t necessarily take long to build up pollutants in your body that have an adverse health impact. Take for example those near the World Trade Center when it collapsed on 9/11. From the sheer volume of particulate matter in the air in the following days, those exposed to high levels suffered from numerous illnesses and many have died prematurely directly resulting from this toxic exposure.

There are 6 levels of concern regarding Air Quality Index (a measure of air pollution):

  • Good” AQI is 0 to 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk (Dublin usually sits around this level).
  • “Moderate” AQI is 51 to 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms (Dublin may slip into this category at times of high levels of construction or traffic around the city center).
  • “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” AQI is 101 to 150. Although general public is not likely to be affected at this AQI range, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, whereas persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air.
  • “Unhealthy” AQI is 151 to 200. Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.
  • “Very Unhealthy” AQI is 201 to 300. This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.
  • “Hazardous” AQI greater than 300. This would trigger a health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

Hanoi today (8th June 2018) has an AQI of 231. You can bet I wore my face mask on my commute today.

Anyway, take a look at the above video from Harvard’s “take 2” series. It explains in more detail the affects of air pollution on human health.

Tam Biet,


Hanoi’s Airpocalypse

When I first arrived in Hanoi, I could not get over the level of air pollution that people live with on a daily basis. One of my colleagues has been suffering from a terrible cough since she arrived here and after a day outside, you feel like you need to take a shower afterwards to wash the pollution off your skin.

My first instinct was to question how the local population could stand for this kind of air quality. Who is responsible for fixing this? Why is so little being done? Cars, trucks, buses and most importantly motorcycles are to blame for this air pollution. Hanoi is also experiencing massive urbanisation and by 2020 there is projected to be 1 million cars and 7 million motorcycles in the city. The reasons behind this are numerous. Firstly, the only form of public transport is busses, of which only 3% of the cities inhabitants use. Secondly, commuting by car is tedious and slow. Investment in public transport and road improvements would cost the Vietnamese government billions per year and motorcycles are ingrained into Vietnamese and SEA culture. This leaves two options – cycle in 40 degree heat or use a motorcycle. I must confess that even as an environmentalist and a qualified urban planner, I myself have invested in a motorcycle to get around the city.

What can be done to improve this? The suggestions are numerous and potentially viable but it would require a significant investment. Vietnam must firstly begin to invest heavily in renewable energy. It already gets 40% of its electricity from hydroelectric plants. Secondly, the electrification of cars and scooters must become far more common and dates should be set to phase out fossil fuel modes of transport. Electric light rail, buses, cars and bikes could clear up the air in the city and showcase just how beautiful a city it really is. Will this happen? Its up to the Government I suppose!

Anyway, it is not my job to try and solve every air quality problem that Southeast Asia suffers from. I’m just here to look into the agricultural aspect.

Take a look at the video. Its a good watch!

Tam Biet


Rice becomes less nutritious as CO2 levels rise

A research project by the University of Tokyo has revealed that certain strains of rice have become less nutritious resulting from increased CO2 levels. This is extremely problematic in countries with large rice consumption and low GDP. This may result in malnutrition in the most vulnerable parts of the world. 

However, Its not all doom and gloom. Certain breeds of rice have shown no loss in nutrition and they can be studied and enhanced to improve food security in our changing climate.

Here is an article related to the study

C. Zhu, K. Kobayashi, I. Loladze, J. Zhu, Q. Jiang, X. Xu, G. Liu, S. Seneweera, K. L. Ebi, A. Drewnowski, N. Fukagawa, L. H. Ziska, Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels this century will alter the protein, micronutrients, and vitamin content of rice grains with potential health consequences for the poorest rice dependent countries. Sci. Adv. 4, eaaq1012 (2018).

Engineers from the Malaysia branch of Nottingham University have developed new processes to minimise waste from the palm oil industry.

Malaysia is the world’s second-largest producer of palm oil, which is used in countless household products and foodstuffs. The country’s 400 odd mills produce massive amounts of waste including kernels and husks from pressed fruits, discarded branches and wastewater known as Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME).

However, Students from Nottingham University claim to have developed a method of palm oil production with zero waste.

Click here to read more. 

Two-thirds of all air pollution deaths occur in Asia

The Asian Review published an article on the grim realities of air pollution in Asia, highlighting that two-thirds of all air pollution deaths occur in Asia. From first-hand experience you can see the precautions that many take to avoid the potential dangers, wearing masks on the street, keeping windows closed at all times and limiting time spent outside. The WHO claims that 9/10 people on earth breathe polluted air at one time or another.

The article attributes the increase of air pollution to increased urbanization in the region. It also mentions the burning of peatland and forest to make way for lucrative oil palm plantations which results in a choking haze that lingers over cities for weeks.

For those interested, here is the article. 

Hanoi Air Pollution

Hey guys, here is a really interesting article from two days ago about air pollution in Hanoi during Q1 of 2018. PM2.5 levels are 6x the safe level set by the WHO. Interestingly, of locals surveyed nobody seemed to blame the agricultural sector for any of the smog that left their city with only 38 days of clean air last year. Hanoi now suffers from almost the same level of air pollution as China’s smog ridden capital, Beijing.

Anyway, here is a link to the article.