The Venice of the East? Pollution Chokes Bangkok’s Canals

A foul stench rises from the grey-black water as I wait for the riverboat. Kids jump in and climb back out, laughing a screaming. Old tires line the floating dock to protect the boats. I look down into the water toward my reflection, but it isn’t there. The grey water swallows everything. This is Bangkok’s Khlong Saen Saeb.

Khlong, or canals as they’re more popularly called, run throughout the city of Bangkok, giving Bangkok the moniker “The Venice of the East.” These Khlong were built centuries ago for transportation and trade. Khlong Saen Saeb was constructed in 1837 as a means of transporting soldiers during times of conflict.

A source of water and livelihood, khlong became gathering and settling points. People migrated to the khlong, developing communities along the edges. Inhabitants used the water for bathing, washing, drinking and transportation. These communities still exist today.

Shacks made of wood and corrugated steel line the edges of the khlong. Men and women can be found sitting along the edges, dangling their feet above the water, fishing. Kids swim and play.

But not all is well in Bangkok’s khlong system. The beautiful “Venice” feel has floated away. Foul smells, grey-black water, and floating trash exist instead. Pollutants stream into the water: human and industrial waste.

But it is not too late. While many of the khlong have been paved over to accommodate modern modes of transportation and other developments, the khlong that still exist deserve saving. The trash and pollutants can be removed, new water quality standards enforced, “Venice” resurrected.

Projects and campaigns have been tried, but so far, none have achieved much success.

The inhabitants of the khlong-side communities deserve the clean waters to which their ancestors gathered. The children deserve a clean place to play.

Written by Ruedigar Matthes, Eco Worldly, under Creative Commons License

Image Credit: Badly Drawn Dad via flickr under Creative Commons License