Thailand — “An additional problem is that national borders get in the way, with man-made burn-offs also occurring in Burma’s Shan State and in Laos,” says your editorial, “Burning issue plagues North” on March 29.
Having recently returned from a 1,500km motorcycle trip in northern Laos, half of it off road on dirt tracks in the mountains, I can assure you the toxic soup that passes for air in Chiang Mai is an entirely Thai-made problem.
I did not see so much as a wisp of smoke in northern Laos or along the Burmese border. The air is clear and there is no haze until one is south of Chiang Rai.
As someone who lived and worked in Chiang Mai for six years before moving to Bangkok for the vastly improved air quality (oh yes), I assure you there is nothing even remotely encouraging in the health and forestry authorities’ promised campaign to urge villagers not to burn off forests, rubbish or grass. We hear the same hot air from them every year.
Villagers continue their nightly burning of leaves and plastic, as local government officials and racketeers continue to pocket the cash from refuse contracts, ensuring that the rubbish is dumped in fields and burnt instead of going into landfill sites.
Meanwhile, thousands of heavily polluting empty songtaews continue to drive around all day, and the dust from the current frenzy of construction fills the air.
The result is that Chiang Mai has the highest rates of lung disease in the country. No amount of spineless local councillors commissioning yet another report into the cause of air pollution, analysing another air sample, waffling on about traditional lifestyles, handing out masks or pointing a barely visible finger through the smog toward Laos or Burma is going to solve the problem.
The solutions are clear, easily identified and easily solved. Start by getting rid of the incompetent buffoons who have mismanaged Chiang Mai for the past decade.
I do not know how anyone can reside in Chiang Mai today. The putrid air makes it one of the most unliveable cities in Thailand. I hung on until bronchitis brought on by nightly burning of waste in our village forced my reluctant retreat.
With its rich culture, beautiful scenery and easy-going people, Chiang Mai had so much going for it.
Unfortunately, self-interest, apathy and ignorance have taken a heavy toll on the city. That’s a shame, because I miss it desperately and would love to move back, but not until I can do so without wheezing.