Haze haunts the North

CHIANG MAI, 29 March 2017: The annual smog, or smoke haze, is turning into a major deterrent persuading travellers to scratch North Thailand off their travel plans, according to the Economics Research and Agricultural Forecasting Centre (Maejo Poll).

Released last week, the research focused on 1,015 Thai travellers who had visited Chiang Mai during 20 February to 5 March this year.

72.88% of interviewees said they had experience severe haze, while 27.12% said they had not been aware of it when visiting Chiang Mai.

All provinces in North Thailand introduced an anti-burning campaign that became effective 20 February and continues until after the Songkran festival, 20 April.

A wider agreement on ending annual burning and the haze crisis across the region was signed by ASEAN nations last January. In the context of the North Thailand haze, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar signed an agreement to introduce a ban.

In Thailand, anyone caught burning waste, rice fields or forest land, faces a fine of up to THB20,000. Villages across the region are warned daily via early morning loudspeaker announcements that they face arrest and heavy fines. The campaign has been largely successful at village level.

However by mid-March the haze did intensify and visits to the border area along the Mekong River in Chiang Rai province revealed considerable rice field burning.

Prevailing winds pushed the haze from Laos across Chiang Rai province reducing visibility. There is considerable evidence that smoke from rice field burning in Myanmar reached Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces.

As for the 60-days no burning campaign, 55.73% of the people polled said they know about the campaign while 44.27% said they have no idea about it at all.

Hotels across the north have felt the impact in lost bookings extending through to May.

According to the poll, 61.23% believed the campaign would help to reduce haze, while 20.20% said they believed it would not help as the problem occurs every year and the penalty  for violators was not serious enough. 18.52% said they were not sure.

The poll noted that 95.37% of respondents believed the haze problem impacted on their decision to travel to Chiang Mai, while 4.63% claimed the problem had no impact.

More importantly the haze impacts annually on the health of residents and the campaign was a direct response to that issue.

Questioned on causes, 41.98% believed haze was caused by burning fields and forests (35.05%), wildfires (9.4%), burning household waste (6.24%), fires originated in neighbouring countries (4.75%) and industrial pollution (2.57%).

55.49% also said the haze problem would impact on local people’s health, 38.28% said it would damage tourism and 6.23% said it impact on road transport and safety.

67.74% recommended that related sectors should campaign and create awareness for people to stop burning by tightening the law and penalties.

Each year Chiang Mai suffers smog and haze and most of it is blamed on farmers who use traditional slash and burn agricultural clearing techniques. They also burn the rice fields to prepare them for a second or third planting.

Maejo University in Chiang Mai is the oldest agricultural institution in the country.


    • I live in Chiang Rai, 23 km from the town centre surrounded by forested hills. Last year, after suffering severe headaches when cycling in the smog-cloaked hills near my home I decided I would in future migrate south in March to escape the haze for a couple of months.
      I changed my mind after the government introduced its two-month ban on burning. Every morning the village chief warned our village that if we burned even a scrap of paper we would be fined THB20,000. Usually, at night you could see the fires burning on mountain sides, miles and miles of senseless destruction. This year not a single fire.
      The ban kept the skies clearer until last week in my neck of the woods. As long as I can see the mountains, 3 km east of my house I can enjoy cycling in Chiang Rai; the only reason I moved here in the first place. So yes, if the haze persists it will damage tourism to North Thailand, year-after-year. Eventually it will force long-stay visitors to pack up and go elsewhere. Once the damage is done, the province could have blue skies for years to come and the perception of smog would persist in the minds of travellers. It takes just one bad year to spoil a destination’s image and a decade to fix it.

      • They don’t care about a destination’s image, nor do they know how to protect/enhance it. rather sad.

      • Agree with Don (though left on travel 10 days ago)

        The ban held well in Thailand but from our position in the Golden Triangle we could see daily burning in Laos and Myanmar to remind us what previous years had been like. We also had reports from other provinces that they had failed to stop the burning.

        Nonetheless, anecdotally, the smoke in Chiang Rai was much better than previous years.

        The more I look into it increased awareness of biochar manufacture, use and sale for farmers – coupled with this strong enforcement – may well be an answer. We organised a training course up in the Golden Triangle and had some village take-up: http://bit.ly/2nJX9wO

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