Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thailand's prime minister flies north for smog crisis talks

The smoke pollution situation in Thailand's north continues to be bad. Yesterday dust particles in the air measured at 400 microgrammes per cubic metre. The health standard is a maximum of 120 microgrammes per cubic metre.

A friend wrote today to say that a couple of days ago it hurt to breathe. The family keeps the doors and windows closed with the air conditioner and air filter going all the time.

The pollution is already affecting tourism. Who'd want to go visit a place where you can't see anything nor can you breathe?

Bangkok Post: Prime Minister flies north for smog crisis talks
Chiang Mai (TNA)

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont will fly to Chiang Mai today to see for himself the smoke and haze now described as Thailand's worst airborne environmental disaster.

He is to escort royal supplies to be distributed to victims of the haze which is choking the northern provinces.

Chiang Rai Governor Amornpan Nimanant declared natural disaster areas in 16 districts and two subdistricts because of the smog.

He did not immediately say what his plans were. But declaring a disaster means he can dispense aid on an emergency basis, with little paperwork or involvement by the central government.

There is widespread criticism of the cabinet decision on Tuesday to give the smog problem another week to clear up before the government takes any action.

Dust particles caused by forest fires in this northern province have risen to their highest concentration in two weeks, measured Wednesday at nearly 400 microgrammes per cubic metre.

The highest level was measured at 383 microgrammes per cubic metre at Yupparatch Wittayalai in the provincial seat, compared to the health standard of a maximum of 120 microgrammes per cubic metre.

The regional environmental office reported the figure to the government, but solutions were not necessarily in sight.

The mayor of Chiang Mai municipality said the city is urging residents to spray water into the air by hoses to reduce dust particles and to increase moisture in the atmosphere.

The municipality is turning on fountains around the city, at historic moats and at other sites.

The province has banned all outdoor fires and has accelerated the activities of forest fire response teams, including using fire engines to spray water throughout residential areas to reduce the effects of the concentrated pollution.

Akkhanee Moonmek of the Love Chiang Mai Group said that the government's response was too slow to deal with the problem. "It ignored the problem and adopted a wait-and-see policy," he said
critically, suggesting the response was too little, too late.

He said the government should ban fires and declare an environmental emergency. It should also warn local residents of the health hazards posed by the dust.

The numbers of patients suffering from respiratory diseases has increased markedly throughout the region.

Dr. Pisit Sriprasert at Nan's provincial hospital said about 160 patients per day are visiting his hospital.

Nan forest fire control chief Muangman Kerdnana said the seasonal fires were expected to be critical due to severe drought. His firefighters are prepared to work around the clock, but are short
of necessary equipment for the numbers of workers needed.

Mai Sai district hospital director Dr. Sura Khunkongkhapan in Chiang Rai said many villagers are suffering from smoke-related respiratory diseases.

Patients from Thailand and Myanmar crossing the nearby border are coming to the hospital by as many as 100-200 people daily. Most of the patients are the elderly and children.

Northern region weather chief Thatsanee Chaichiengpin said a southwesterly wind is expected to move into the northern provinces and will increase humidity, coupled with artificial rain-making to help wash out the haze.

Royal rain-making operations centre director Somchai Ruangsutthinaruepab said that two more aircraft will fly Thursday, joining Royal Thai Air Force planes already in use to coax the rain daily since Friday March 9, he added.

The rain-making operations have not yet succeeded, he said, because smoke from the forest fires are rising as high as 10,000 feet.

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