Govt set to declare state of emergency

Govtset to declare state of emergency

14 March 2007

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Thailand — The government will declare a state of environmental emergency inthe northern provinces if the thick smoke haze over the area has not easedwithin a week. This would pave the way to imposing harsher penalties on peopleviolating the the ban on slash-and-burn activities.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Kasem Snidvongs said article 9 ofthe 1992 National Environmental Quality Act deals with the question of anemergency or public danger arising from a natural disaster or pollution causedby contamination and spread of pollutants.

In such cases, the prime minister has the power to order government agencies, state enterprises or any relevant people to take prompt action in order to control or mitigate the adverse effects of such danger or damage.

After the declaration of a state of emergency, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont would have absolute power to consider what measures should be taken or whether people should be evacuated, Mr Kasem said after the cabinet meeting.

He said the cabinet was also very concerned about the severity of the forest fires, especially in the northern provinces. Dangerously high levels of small dust particles have been generated by forest fires and burning activities.

The minister said forest fire control units from provinces with a low risk of forest fires, as well as soldiers from the Third Region Army, have been sent to the northern provinces to help local officials control the bush fires and haze crisis.

The Pollution Control Department yesterday reported that the level of small dust particles in the air in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces was measured at between 240 and 290 milligrammes per cubic metre (ug/cu m), against the health standard of a maximum of 120 ug/cu m.

The level of dust in Chiang Mai was measured at 284 ug/cu m, the highest since the department issued its first dust warning on March 6.

Siri Aka-akara, director of the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department’s forest fire control division, said the forest fire peak period would continue until the end of this month. This means air quality in the northern provinces, particularly Chiang Mai, could get worse unless there is more rain.

Mr Siri predicted that there would be more forest fires in the northernprovinces due to a very low moisture level in the atmosphere, scarce rainfalland increasing burning activities on farmland.

”When such human activity mixes with natural conditions, then the severityof these forest fires will be terribly high,” Mr Siri said.

The forest fire control chief said the haze problems occurred in the northernprovinces every year during this period, but this year’s situation was far morecritical due to some ”unusual climate conditions”.

”The country has never experienced a cold air mass during this time of theyear. But the cold air mass hit us this year and has blocked the small dustparticles from evaporating into the air. A shortage of rainfall also worsenedthe situation,” Mr Siri explained.

Suraphol Leelawaropas, the chief of the forest fire control division inChiang Mai, said statistics showed that the smoke that has shrouded the provincemainly came from slash-and-burn activities in farmlands, not from bush fires.

Puchong Insomphun, chief of Chiang Mai environmental office, said thesituation had not shown any signs of improving thus far.

Officials had been searching for sources of smoke and found that KoreanBulgogi, a chain of outdoor barbecue restaurants, was a major source of smoke innorthern cities, he said.

”We will soon ask these restaurants to reduce the smoke from their barbecuestoves. Although this would only be able to reduce a small amount of the smoke,we will have to do it to improve air quality,” Mr Puchong said.

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