Govt mulls emergency rule in North over forest fire smog

Govt mulls emergency rule in North over forest fire smog

13 March 2007

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Bangkok, Thailand — Faced with an apparent wide-front forest fire moving east and south into Thailand from neighbouring Myanmar, the Thai government is on the brink of declaring emerency rule in widespread parts of several provinces.
Kasem Sanitwong Na Ayutthaya, Thailand’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister, said Monday he will propose an emergency plan to urgently tackle haze and air pollution to the Cabinet Tuesday.

Suphat Wangwongwattana, director-general of Pollution Control Department, said the situation has been aggravated by farming activities as many farmers in the North still use the slash-and-burn tecnique to prepare their land for new crops.

Immediate measures to be proposed to the Cabinet include manpower mobilisation from all state-run agencies to combat the bush fires, he said.

The haze problem prompted cancellation of four return THAI Airways flights between Chiang Mai and neighbouring Mae Hong Son Monday due to thick smog from bush fires and reduced visibility over the area, according to the national air carrier’s statement.

Speaking after meeting with all concerned parties in Chiang Mai, Pitiphong Phuengboon Na Ayutthaya, permanent secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment said he would ask the Cabinet in its weekly meeting Tuesday to find immediate measures to solve the air quality problems since thick haze has blanketed some northern provinces for two weeks, and are a health hazard to local residents.

“The state of emergency may be imposed to strictly control all burning activities in the area, if the haze problem in Chiang Mai continues to worsen over the next two days,” Mr.Pitiphong said.

Chiang Mai air quality reached a critical level over the past week. Pregnant women, the elderly and children were advised to wear face masks to protect against the hazadous haze.

The level of dust particles smaller than 10 microns was as high as 273 micrograms per cubic metre on Monday, the highest reading since the haze began early this month.

The increasing dust level is a result of widespread bush fires in the northern provinces and in neighbouring countries including Myanmar. Chiang Mai is the hardest hit, thanks to its mountainous terrain that trapped the haze within its deep valleys.

As a result, many local residents at the Thai-Myanmar border are suffering from eye irritation and fear of respiratory ailments from dirt, dust and possible toxic pollutants.

Meanwhile, bush fires in Myanmar spread to Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province, destroying more than 30 rai of forest and sending thick haze over Mai Sai district, but firefighters and volunteers were able to contain the raging blaze. Motorists are warned to drive carefully due to reduced visibility.

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