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Tackling the 21st century curse of noise pollution

As more people move to cities, noise pollution becomes an ever greater irritant. Taiwan is taking steps to lower it.

  • Cindy Sui
  • Taiwan
  • October 3, 2012
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Living above Taipei's popular Shida Night Market, retiree John Lin gets little sleep. Until recently, vendors were allowed to stay open until 02:00.

"You hear the customers chatting, the shop owners yelling out the orders, and sometimes the boys and girls arguing below," said Mr Lin.

"The noise doesn't stop when they shut down, because the shop owners chat with each other until 03:00.

"Then the cleanup people they've hired make noise until 04:00. They're followed by the government's own garbage collectors who make noise for another hour," he said. "You cannot live and you cannot sleep."

Noise has always been a part of life in Taiwan, especially during its rapid industrialisation from the 1960s to 1990s.

But in recent years, people have become less tolerant of it.

The number of complaints has risen by 15% a year, to some 58,000 last year, according to the government's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

That has forced the EPA to recently announce plans to toughen regulations.

Starting next January, the maximum amount people can make across the board - from homes, to businesses and factories - must drop by three decibels, which would cut the volume by half, officials say.

The time period when people can make loud noise has also been shortened.

The measures will be the toughest ever taken, said Chou Li-chung, an EPA official in charge of dealing with noise.
"Because of the property market boom, there are more buildings, restaurants and businesses. But at the same time, people's lives are more stressful now," said Mr Chou.
"They want a peaceful environment. They want a better quality of life. That's why we're making our regulations tougher."

The problem stems from Taiwan's high population density.

The island's population of 23m people is equivalent to that of Australia, but Taiwan is only a fraction of the size. Most Taiwanese live on just one third of the land; the rest is uninhabited mountains.

With scarcity of land, there's little zoning - residences, businesses, offices and even some factories are mixed in the same neighbourhoods.

On many streets, the first level of a building is crammed with shops, such as cafes, shoe stores, boutiques, wonton and dumpling eateries, bakeries, hair salons and drug stores. And on the pavements are peddlers hawking snacks.

Above all of this are flats, offices, and more businesses.
Many residents in Taipei say they find noise levels intolerable
Some of the noise is typical of any developed country - jackhammers, drills and car alarms. But some are telling of Taiwan's lifestyle: herds of scooters - they're cheaper than cars and easier to park, but louder.

Even late at night, residents can be kept awake by a nearby restaurant's loud pet goose, supermarket or restaurants' ventilation fans and freezers, temples or businesses setting off firecrackers to seek divine protection at ungodly but auspicious hours.

Full Story: Taiwan's noise pollution dilemma

Source: BBC News
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