BANGKOK, 9 March 2016: A plan to reduce smog and haze in North Thailand gained Thai Cabinet approval last week.
Air pollution caused by wide-spread burning of rice fields and forests in North Thailand and neighbouring Laos and Myanmar troubles the region annual from late February through to early May.
In response, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s plan, approved last week, focuses on nine provinces, namely Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan, Phayao, Mae Hong Son, and Tak where air pollution reaches hazardous levels.
At the core of the plan is a preventative campaign focusing on villagers who clear forestland for farming or burn off rice fields.
Authorities are warning villagers they will face fines of up to THB3,000 for burning paddy. Village community leaders, across North Thailand, are issuing announcements forbidding even the burning of household garbage until the end of April.
In Chiang Rai, identified as an emerging tourist destination and gateway to neighbouring Laos and Myanmar, only the central districts of the provincial town has an adequate garbage collection service.
But the heavy smog that cloaks mountain ridges originates mainly from widespread burning of rice fields and forests bordering Laos and Myanmar.
The government’s plan calls for the mobilisation of forces from all sectors, as well as volunteer networks, to reduce the haze threat. Village communities will be provided with sufficient equipment to support their operations and monitor vulnerable areas, while military helicopters will patrol areas prone to fires.
Communities will be educated in forest fire control and encouraged to report offenders to authorities during the critical period through to the end of April.
In agricultural areas, the Ministry of Interior is working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, while the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment serves as the core agency in handling the problem in national reserves and conservation areas.
Forest fires in Thailand are caused primarily by human activity. The Government Public Relations Department said investigations showed that collecting forest products was the leading cause of forest fires, followed by hunting and clearing of land for cultivation and raising livestock.
Other reports indicate that forest fires are also the result of extreme weather conditions; a hotter drier climate and strong seasonal winds. A severe and widespread drought adds to the problem this year. As a consequence, forests are drier and the chance of fires increases considerably.
The dry season each year, from January to April, is the critical period for forest fires and haze pollution in Thailand, especially in the North and the Northeast.
Unfortunately for the provinces in these two regions it is also the main tourist season.
Tourists travel north to enjoy the cool season weather and natural mountain landscapes. They are now more likely to cut their holiday short as the haze blankets mountains and poses a health threat.
TTR Weekly learned from one North Thailand luxury resort, underpinned by foreign investment, that its owner threatened to cut losses and withdraw from the project due to the worsening haze.
A source at the project said its owner had made repeated appeals to the government to step in and resolve the problem that is undermining public health a cost the government ultimately has to shoulder.
It is also driving away tourists and long-stay visitors who make North Thailand their second home. They cut their stays short each year resulting in a considerable financial loss to the hospitality industry across North Thailand.
“The attraction of staying here is the beautiful landscapes and the chill-out environment combined with unrivalled luxury.Take the view and healthy environment away and the value of our resort diminishes considerably; the venue is compromised,” the resort’s GM explained.
(Source on haze plan Government Public Relations Department).