Bikes out, trees in

Hanoi tackles air pollution woes

photo-People wear protective masks while riding on a street in Hanoi,Vietnam, 2018. Picture taken May 21, 2018.Reuters/KHAM

The city of 7.7 mln is one of several Asian cities battling emissions from vehicles and industrial activity.

HANOI, July 23 (Reuters) - Famed for ancient pagodas, colonial architecture and delicious pho noodle soup, Vietnam's capital of Hanoi has another, albeit dubious, distinction: air pollution.

The city of 7.7 million, where pollution last year was four times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers acceptable, is one of several Asian cities battling emissions from vehicles and industrial activity.

About 7 million people die globally each year from exposure to pollution that brings diseases such as stroke and heart diseases, the WHO said in May.

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.

Concern about air quality can even be a lucrative business opportunity.

"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.

Hanoi's air quality was the second worst among Southeast Asia's major cities in 2016, after Thailand's industrial heartland city of Saraburi.

Vietnam's commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City ranked fourth, environmental group Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) said in a report.

"Recent developments benefit economic growth, but issues related to sustainable development, and consequences on the environment, increased," said Nguy Thi Khanh, the head of the Hanoi-based group, which analysed WHO data.

She blamed factors such as a surge in construction projects, expanding fleets of cars and motorcycles and heavy industry ringing the city, from steel works and cement factories to coal-fired power plants.

Coal provides the bulk of electricity for Vietnam's fast-growing economy, expected to grow more than 6 percent this year for the fourth time.

In its pollution fight, the Hanoi city council this month approved a ban on motorcycles by 2030, hoping to boost public transport, including a new train system.

Hanoi has also planted more than 80 percent of a target of a million trees and wants to add 70 air monitoring stations over the next few years to the 10 that exist now.