Smogs now threaten Northern Thailand

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Hazardous smog has now blanketed parts of the northern provinces with air quality along the Thai-Myanmar border reaching unsafe level, and forcing border residents resorting to wearing hygienic facemasks and protective eyewear for protection.

Residents in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai are now most affected by smog, caused by the ongoing of the destructive practice of slash and burn farming across the border.

Authorities yesterday said particulate count has jumped to 270 micrograms per cubic metre, exceeding the 120 micrograms per cubic meter specified safety levels.

It is the highest levels on record and the repercussions are now being felt by local residents who are beginning to suffer respiratory problems.

Residents have suffered difficult breathing and young children and the elderly are suffering from dry coughing.

Widespread slash-and-burn farming in the territory was blamed for the smog.

Authorities also said as a consequence of this year’s severe drought only 163 slash-and-burn activities have been reported so far but still these activities have resulted in high amounts of pollutants that have exceeded safety levels for three consecutive days.

For the same period last year more than 1,300 slash-and-burn activities were reported which was almost ten times more.

Health warnings are now issued especially with regards to young children, the elderly and critically ill persons.

Meanwhile Mae Hong Son province also faces similar situation with particulate counts as high as 200 micrograms per cubic meter being reported.

Local officials were forced to spray water into the atmosphere in an attempt to lower airborne pollutants.

Chiang Mai also is facing the same fate with thick smog covering the town, making poor visibility.

The visibility is so bad that the summit of Doi Suthep mountain couldn’t be seen at all yesterday.

The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Chiang Mai and many upper northern provinces sit in a natural basin that traps these pollutants.

Furthermore, there situation has been made worse by the high pressure front that has hit the area.

The situation is akin to keeping the lid on a burning cooking pot trapping the smog and pollutants, climate experts said.

They stated that the only effective way of tackling the problem is to stop slash-and-burn operations at its source across the border.

Director of the Regional Environment Office Rapheesak Malairung-sakun said the first step which Thai authorities have achieved is preventing slash-and-burn operations on the Thai border. This has reduced the smog problem to a certain degree.

He said the second action that must be taken is to reduce similar activities in neighboring countries to the lowest possible levels. This will significantly help to reduce pollutants flowing into the northern provinces.

He said smog is not a national problem anymore but has become a critical regional problem.

Even though official attempts to prevent and control slash-and-burn operations in the territory have been successful, but the consequence of the last few days has shown that it only takes a few burnings to catastrophically affect the entire area.

These few burnings has been able to result in airborne pollutant readings to go through the roof and severely affect health.

Last year Chiang Mai recorded approximately 100,000 persons suffering respiratory disease .

Health officials are now concerned that these slash-and-burn operations will in effect expose local residents to long-term exposure to airborne pollutants that will detrimentally affect health.