Air Pollution—The Latest Threat to Angkor Park

Air pollution from vehicles and electric generators inside the Angkor Archeological Park and in Siem Reap City is soiling and darkening the monuments at the World Heritage Site, an official at the Apsara Authority, which is responsible for the park, said Friday.

Options to decrease the pollution from the hundreds of tour buses and tuk-tuks that ferry visitors around the park each day, as well as generators used by hotels in the country’s premier tourist town, will be discussed and addressed over the next decade, said Im Sokrithy, communications officer for the Apsara Authority.

“The air pollution is on a high level. Compared to Japan, it is really high,” Mr. Sokrithy said, adding that the Apsara Authority had heard evidence from a Japanese researcher working with Unesco that air pollution in Siem Reap is extremely high.

On Thursday, representatives of more than 30 countries and international organizations met in Siem Reap to attend the 3rd Intergovernmental Conference on Angkor, where a new management plan for the park was unveiled.

“Carbon dioxide and other gases that come from old vehicles and automotives and then the big generators that the hotels use …have nearly reached the alert level,” Mr. Sokrithy said, adding that the government, stakeholders and the Apsara Authority agreed that it was necessary to find a solution as part of a plan for the site’s management and preservation for the next 10 years.

“Millions and millions of people are coming every year, so imagine how many cars and buses travel [around] this town and most of the buses being used are all second-hand and produce CO2 gas and this is dangerous for the temples and the people,” Mr. Sokrithy said.

Air pollution accelerates the decay of the temples, but it also affects the health of residents of Siem Reap and the archeological park, he said.

A ban on tour buses entering Angkor is possible in the future, as well as alternatives, including switching to electric cars.

French firm Bollore submitted a proposal on Thursday introducing the so-called “Bluecar,” an electric car with three doors that is being used in car-sharing services in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon.

“There has to be a feasibility study first, but the proposal [of Bollore] is to use two kinds; one is a small car with four seats and then a bigger one,” he said.

The unmet demand for electricity has to be addressed, he added, as it requires hotels to run on diesel generators, which add to air pollution.

Power cuts are frequent in Siem Reap. In February, large parts of the city and province were left without electricity for several days after a truck hit power poles and cut power transmission lines from Thailand, which supplies the majority of Siem Reap’s electricity.

Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, said that globally, many heritage sites faced unnaturally fast soiling due to air pollution. Early signs of that process, such as the darkening of stone, can be seen at the Angkor Archeological Park, she said.

“There are some signs of this already,” she said, adding that studies were still being conducted.

Also at the Inter-Governmental Conference this week, where the action plan was signed after about 300 national and international experts had discussed the future of the heritage site, a Hungarian art collector and philanthropist announced that he would hand a large collection of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian gold over to the government.

“He had the collection for decades and wants to put it in a museum and he would be willing to rehabilitate a beautiful building in Phnom Penh to put it in there,” Ms. Lemaistre said, adding that there was no timeframe for the handover from the collector.

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