The National Environment Board of Thailand states that after toxic smog pollution reached crisis levels in 17 northern Thailand provinces, the government will step up its preventive actions against toxic PM2.5 air particles.
According to Mr. Siwaporn Rungsiyanon, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Air Pollution Mitigation (CAPM), since the middle of last month, slash-and-burn activities in neighbouring forests and farmland have caused PM2.5 levels in the 17 provinces to exceed 100 microgrammes per cubic meter (g/m3).
There, the air is thought to be much less safe than any PM2. A 5 level of more over 50 g/m3 is regarded as harmful. According to Ms. Siwaporn, the air quality in the North is currently at the fourth category of highest warning.
“It has reached a critical point. To address the issue, the NEB will tighten its controls on air pollution, including strictly enforcing the law against anyone who starts field or forest fires. The NEB will examine this important item on its agenda on March 15th.”
She advised residents of the northern Thailand to postpone outdoor activities for the time being.
During the next five days, she advised sensitive populations, such as the elderly and children, to attempt to spend as much time at home as they can. She also advised them to stock up on food and medication.
In light of the dangerous air situation, Ms. Siwaporn also suggested that schools consider closing temporarily in order to preserve children’s health, however such decisions are left up to the governor.
“While school closures might be beneficial for students’ health, they wouldn’t solve the issue. Instead of traffic issues like in Bangkok, forest fires in Northern Thailand are the primary cause of PM2.5 dust “She remarked.
She stated the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation would close more national parks in the region, in an attempt to limit forest use in sensitive areas, including deploying more forest patrol teams to watch against unlawful forest burning.
Meanwhile, as the number of hotspots increases, authorities have put the northern, northeastern, and central parts of the country on a constant high alert for forest fires.
Under urgent directives issued by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation on Friday, firefighters are on standby and organizations in risk areas are setting up war rooms at national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Firefighters in northern Thailand have been instructed to make sure their gear is in good working order.
In order to prevent confusion and blame-shifting, department acting director-general Atthapol Charoenchansa also gave the Protected Areas Regional Office permission to indicate which agency is in charge of fighting forest fires that spread beyond provincial boundaries.
The urgent directives follow the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s (Gistda) discovery of 3,768 fire hotspots throughout Thailand. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi satellite flashed up hundreds of hotspots, the most since January 1.
There were 280 fires in agricultural regions, 1,043 in national forests, and 1,937 in protected forests. When the haze crisis worsens due to thousands of fires, Thailand announces a 24/7 hotspot alert. Kanchanaburi province had the most fires (577), followed by Tak (495), Uttaradit (237), Nan (212), and Phrae (190).
On Thursday, VIIRS also found hotspots in Laos (3,370), Myanmar (2,809), Cambodia (2,758), and Vietnam (732).
The fires are contributing to haze, which has caused harmful PM2.5 pollution levels in most northern provinces to climb above the acceptable limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter. This week, significant PM2.5 haze levels have also been present in areas further south, including Bangkok.