That sinking feeling

Lots of Asian cities have problems: sinking revenue, sinking currency. And then there’s Bangkok, which is just … sinking.

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The city is sinking as much as two inches a year. And there’s good reason. Bangkok is built on a swamp, and rising sea levels have left the swamp less able to absorb rainy season runoff. But experts lay blame primarily on overuse of groundwater, which is cheap in Bangkok. So cheap that 2.5 million cubic tons is pumped out of the ground per day, about twice what’s considered safe. The ground sags as a result.

Proposals to raise the cost of groundwater, currently only half the cost of tap water, have been ignored in the past by a government unwilling to alienate industry, the biggest groundwater consumer. Under pressure from the local press, a handful of city officials have finally taken up the issue. But they’d better hurry: At the current rate, the Thai capital will be underwater by 2050.