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Ho Chi Minh City is a world record holder. But claiming the title of the city with the most motorbikes in the world—there are currently 7.3 million and another 600,000 cars—means there is a price to pay in diminished air quality. And added to vehicle emissions are pollutants from power plants, heavy industry, waste incineration, and transboundary pollution drifting in from Vietnam’s neighbouring countries.

Hanoi pollution
Credit: Channel News Asia

So how can we avoid exposure to the “silent killer” PM2.5 particles that are too small for the body to naturally filter out and that are said to cause serious respiratory, cardiovascular, and even neurological illnesses? We checked in with Jio Health to gather four tips for better breathing.

Air Pollution in Vietnam: Jio Health’s Tips To Stay Protected

Air pollution is a worsening problem in Vietnam. Here, Jio Health shares with us their four tips to help us stay protected.Read more online: https://goo.gl/F5dpto

Posted by Vietcetera on Thursday, 15 March 2018

#1 Wear a good quality mask

At least air pollution is good news for some—air mask manufacturers. But with so many options available from surgical masks to next-generation fashion accessories like the Airinum M90 (available from L’Usine, 19 Le Thanh Ton), what should we be looking for to stay protected from air pollution in Vietnam?

Studies suggest any coverage is better than none. Even face cloths and cloth masks, the kind you might pick up cheaply from roadside vendors here, are shown to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the respiratory system. More effective are surgical masks, but their poor fit often allows side leakage which lowers their effectiveness, and their short lifespan makes them a less environmentally friendly option compared to reusable masks. Providing most protection are masks that meet or exceed the American N95 standard—which refers to masks that block 95% or more of those fine particles that cause the greatest health concerns. The ones made by 3M are a good example of protection that meets this standard. AQblue are another company whose stylish, affordable masks meet the N95 standard (available from Chloe Cosmetics, 26B Thao Dien, branches of Maple Healthcare, and online).

Carbon Mask
Credit: airinum.com

With masks moving from functionality into high-fashion—one Chinese designer even transforms Adidas Yeezy Boosts into face masks—it’s probably time you picked one up to prevent the harmful effects of air pollution in Vietnam.

#2 Avoid peak pollution times

Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have intense but short-lived rush hours (compared to regional capitals like Bangkok and Jakarta which were recently ranked #16 and #17 worst in the world for traffic respectively). Although a major cause of air pollution in Vietnam, motorbikes do provide traffic flows with dynamism and in Ho Chi Minh City the newly opened river taxi service and metro system, now scheduled to begin operating in 2020, should help to alleviate things. Whether that is quick enough to stop the congestion caused by rising car ownership remains to be seen. In 2015, the Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers Association reported a quarter of a million new car sales—a 55% increase on 2014—that is exacerbating the problem of air pollution in Vietnam.

As Vietnam-based companies begin to offer their employees playful modern office spaces, it might be time they also adopted reduced working hours to help you avoid peak traffic times. If your employers aren’t convinced—Sweden abandoned the same policy despite increased productivity in 2016 because of the extra costs—try suggesting they let you work out of one of the country’s conveniently located co-working spaces, like Toong or CO-SPACE—Ho Chi Minh City’s first women’s co-working space.

But if you do get stuck in the rush hour traffic, take a moment to remind yourself you’re not in the Thai capital where transit times are said to increase by 57% during peak hours.

Saigon Traffic
Credit: Bertie

#3 Avoid busy streets

If you’ve seen the vehicles backed up along Ho Chi Minh City’s Dien Bien Phu, Cach Mang Thang Tam, and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, you’ll know avoiding busy streets is becoming harder to do at any time of the day. However, experts advise that avoiding these kinds of traffic-clogged thoroughfares can help protect us from the problem of air pollution in Vietnam.

The benefit of this, besides reducing your exposure to air pollution, is that you’re likely to stumble across hidden gems. Off Cach Mang Thang Tam are the cafes of Tu Xuong on one side, and the tree-lined Bui Thi Xuan on the other. A minute away from hectic Dien Bien Phu street, down Phan Ke Binh, is Bunker Bed & Breakfast and a host of other sleepy Da Kao delights.

#4 Keep as far away from air pollution in Vietnam as possible

Experts say lines of stationary traffic with idling engines create “urban canyons”—pockets of air pollution trapped by tall buildings—and by standing back as far as possible, you can access cleaner air. So, whatever your feelings about last year’s sidewalk cleaning initiative, at least the project to make Saigon’s central districts into a miniature Singapore has cleared more space to walk—and avoid air pollution in Vietnam.

Glancing across again at Jakarta, no one would claim that the Indonesian capital is a walking city—that is unless you’re promenading through one of its almost 200 malls. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, on the other hand, are much easier to navigate on foot. And as the 7.7 km2 area of Saigon’s District 1 has had its own walking street since 2015, the 60m wide pedestrian strip of Nguyen Hue, finding traffic-free areas is possible too. If you discount the motorbikes clogging the colonial-era People’s Committee Building end of the street, the only congestion here is the foot traffic that increases into the evening (and which might be considerable as Ho Chi Minh City’s population density was recently ranked higher than Tokyo’s).

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