BANGKOK - A blaze at a vast rubbish dump home to six million tonnes of putrefying trash and toxic effluent has kindled fears that poor planning and lax law enforcement are tipping Thailand towards a waste crisis.
Locals had long pressed for the closure of the foul-smelling Praeksa landfill site, which is wedged between a cluster of industrial estates on the fringes of Bangkok.
But a ferocious eight-day fire that cloaked the eastern suburbs of the capital in poisonous smoke earlier this year thrust Praeksa to the heart of a national debate over rubbish.
Bangkok - a sprawling city of 12 million and counting - produces around 10,000 tonnes of waste a day, a substantial portion of the 27 million tonnes generated each year across the kingdom.
The ruling junta has put waste disposal high on its to-do list, recognising that poorly regulated pits are fast filling up and prone to disaster.
But Thailand is not alone in struggling to tame its trash.
From Jakarta's Bantar Gebang dump to Manila's 'smokey mountain', open landfills blight Southeast Asia's booming megacities, as urban planners labour to keep pace with rapid urbanisation and industrial growth.
Experts warn those dumps are a timebomb for the environment and the increasing number of communities forced to live cheek-by-jowl with them.
Open dumping "offers a quick and easy solution in the short run," the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific says in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.
'Close the dump'
Of Thailand's 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to the kingdom's Pollution Control Department.
The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping - including of hazardous waste - fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems.
The department says the mid-March blaze at Praeksa, which has caught fire several times since, was just one of 10 raging every month at dumps across a kingdom.
A lack of enforcement is to blame, says Nicha Rakpanichmanee of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH), explaining the whole waste disposal chain is skewed towards "anyone who can pay".
She says that 1.9 million tonnes of toxic waste goes unaccounted for after leaving factory gates every year, with many factory owners flouting laws to save on the costs of safe disposal and tip operators willing to turn a blind eye to the illegal dumping of toxic run-off.
"The people who will remain with the problems are the poorest who cannot move," she says of the communities forced to live with contaminated water and land.