Thailand / Myanmar — Thailand’s army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has called on both Burma and Laos to help stem the tide of smoke which is covering northern Thailand and causing serious health problems for people living there.
The haze is an annual occurrence caused by forest fires and slash-and-burn agriculture. PM10 levels in Chiang Mai reached 323.4 microgrammes per cublic meter (ug/m3) this week. Safe levels in Thailand are deemed below 120 ug/m3, with European Union limits set at only 50 ug/m3.
Nine provinces in the north of ThailandChiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phrae, Phayao and Takhave been facing severe haze in recent weeks. Authorities in Mae Sai district bordering Burma prepared to evacuate residents of tall buildings as levels reached 357 ug/m3 on Sunday.
Officials in Tak have found three burning hotspots in Taksin Maharaj, Pa Charoen and Mae Moei national parks as bushfires have ravaged more than 500 rai (20 acres) of forest by the Thai-Burmese border.
Authorities in Mae Sot province have taken to spraying water into the air and dousing vegetation in a bid to stem the pollution, but it is unlikely if similar action would be practical across in Burma’s unstable border region.
Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pledged to impose penalties on nine governors of northern provinces if they do not take action to control the fires.
The prime minister has expressed her concern about the situation and asked the governors to take responsibility if hotspots of forest or bush fires are detected in their areas, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk earlier this week.
Preecha said he would use satellite mapping to monitor where the blazes where taking place, and that Yingluck had instructed his ministry to enforce regulations strictly.
The Northern Royal Rainmaking Operations Center has been adding humidity to the air around Chiang Mai, Lampang and Lamphun as levels are not currently high enough to allow the use of rain-making chemicals.
Poor visibilitylimited to just 10 meters in certain areashas caused delays and cancellations to fights out of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son airports in recent weeks with tourists forced to make alternative arrangements.
Associated transport problems have hampered supplies reaching haze-hit areas with the busy tourist season disrupted yet again just months after Thailand was hit with its worst floods for 50 years.
Teachers have been told to pay close attention to students who may suffer health problems from the pollution, while the elderly and those with asthma or breathing difficulties have been advised to remain indoors and avoid exercise.
Thai Meteorological Department deputy chief Somchai Baimoung expressed confidence the situation is likely to improve shortly as rain showers are expected.
As soon as cold weather fades out, the haze problem is going to end, he told the Bangkok Post.