CHIANG MAI, 11 March 2015: A smog covering most of northern Thailand will discourage tourism as air pollution hit unhealthy levels and hospitals issue warnings.
Officials admit that northern provinces are now in the grip of a health threatening smog caused by the wholesale burning of paddy fields and forests across Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.
In Chiang Rai province officials confirmed they had instructed all districts to adopt strict measures to end burning including that of domestic waste. Only a few districts in Chiang Rai town have garbage collection, leaving thousands of villages across the province to burn rubbish, usually at night, or just before dawn to avoid detection.
But the major damage comes from paddy and forest burning. Farmers burn the fields to prepare for the planning of the next rice crop, but the wholesale burning of forests is an encroachment by plantation owners who illegal occupy vast stretches of hillside, burn and clear them to plant rubber, palm oil trees.
Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Office has instructed hospitals to prepare medical supplies for more patients suffering from smog-triggered illnesses, as the air pollution in the north remains severe.
An office executive, Surasing Wisaruthrat, said that 70,000 to 80,000 facemasks would also be distributed to at-risk persons, especially those living in outer districts where field burning and wildfires usually occurred.
Tiny particles registered in downtown Chiang Mai on Tuesday were reported at 253 microgrammes per cubic metre at Yupparaj Wittayarai Scholl in the province town and 247 microgrammes per cubic metre at the Provincial Hall in town, which were beyond the safety level of 120 microgrammes per cubic metre (PM10).
These levels are seriously unhealthy causing respiratory infections, smarting eyes, coughs and headaches.
According to the Department of Pollution Control, prompt action needs to be taken to deal with the smoke haze and bush fire situation in many provinces of the northern region.
The department general director, Vichien Joongroongraung, said last Friday the overall air quality in the upper northern region, especially Chiang Mai, deteriorated due to an increase of sub10 micron dust particles in the air.
Bush fires were raging in the area of Doi Suthep national park which caused smog to blanket Chiang Mai last Friday. Other hard hit areas were Muang and Mae Moh districts in Lampang; and the Muang districts in the province of Phrae and Mae Hong Son.
The department has instructed responsible units to come up with urgent measures to control burning in open fields and to cope with bush fires, to alleviate the situation that affects the health of a million local residents of the area.
Late last week, the Third Army Area has sent out water and fire trucks around Lampang to reduce haze and air pollution, which has covered the province since January this year.
Officials also encouraged local residents to spray water in their house gardens and the front lawns, as well as avoid buring garbage until the air quality becomes normal.
Source: Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s Pollution Control Department