Thailand — As the haze from outdoor burning worsened in the nine upper northern provinces, despite the January 21 Cabinet’s 100-day resolution banning burning until April 30, representatives of Karen hill tribes in Chiang Mai and Lampang provinces filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) sub-panel on land and forest, claiming the ban violated their rights.
Mae Hong Son, one of the nine provinces, has already broken this year’s record with dust particles reaching 428 micrograms per cubic metre. Chiang Mai follows, with about 200 micrograms per cubic metre – well above the maximum safety standard set at 120 micrograms.
NHRC sub-panel chairman Niran Pitakwatchara, who recently invited relevant agencies and plaintiffs to discuss the ban’s alleged “human rights violations”, said it was affecting the traditional practice of crop rotation among Karen communities, and went against the government’s August 3, 2010 Cabinet resolution aimed at reviving the Karen way of life. Niran said once the sub-panel had concluded its findings, it would forward its recommendations to Deputy Prime Minster Plodprasop Suraswadi and the governors of the nine northern provinces.
Jongjit Neeranartmethikul, a senior official of the Pollution Control Department, said the high concentration of fine dust in Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai was the result of forest fires and the clearing of farmland in Thailand, as well as in the border regions of Laos and Myanmar. She said the Foreign Affairs Ministry would ask neighbouring countries to reduce their outdoor burning. Thailand will meet Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia from March 30-31, to discuss preventative measures aimed at further reducing outdoor burning, she added.
Deputy governor of Chiang Mai Adisorn Kamnerdsiri said the problem had reached a critical stage, prompting him to meet with the heads of 25 districts to find a solution. “At the provincial hall, the level of dust particles is 185 micrograms per cubic metre, while at Yupparat School, the level is 210. The poor air quality is affecting Chiang Mai people.”
District authorities were have been ordered to strengthen screening and also check people visiting forested areas to prevent any fire building. Anyone found starting fires would be arrested, the deputy governor added.
From February 18 and March 20, there were 378 bush fires in 23 districts, damaging 4,411.5 rai of land. Most of the fires occurred in Chiang Dao district (63 times), followed by Mae On district (55 times). A total of 36,160 people have been affected by the haze since February 1, said the governor.
In Lamphun, the dust concentration reached 157 micrograms per cubic metre yesterday, reducing visibility on highway number 106 (Lamphun-Pa Sang) to two kilometres. The concentration of fine dust in Lamphun has exceeded safety levels for five consecutive days and residents have complained of eye and nose irritations.
In Uthai Thani’s Lan Sak district, sugarcane plantation harvester Lampong Buacheun from Tambol Rabum, agreed to pay Bt100,000 compensation for reforestation, after his workers set fires that spread and damaged 50 rai of the Khao Hin Lek Fai Community forest – nurtured by villagers for more than two decades.