CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s North Northeast, and Central regions have had an unusually long cold spell this year, which has killed 63 people over the past three months, according to reports.
A majority of the fatalities were men. The youngest was a one-month-old baby and the oldest an 81-year-old. One Cambodian and one British national were among the victims.
The northern province of Chiang Rai has the most deaths, with six. The 63 deaths occurred in a total of 27 different provinces.
Over 25 million people have bee affected by the cold weather, and 45 province have been declared cold-spell disaster zones, according to a Bangkok Post report.
This year’s cool season has lasted nearly three months already, making it the longest in a decade.
The three months of cold weather has occurred at the same time as three months of almost daily anti-government street protests in the capital of Bangkok.
Though many of the protesters sleep out in the streets, protest leaders say the low temperatures have not kept people from joining the demonstrations.
Akanat Promphan, spokesman for the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee, said ”It’s been cold but not freezing, and Thai people generally enjoy cool weather the same way Westerners enjoy sunny skies”.
The unusually long cool season, blamed on a cold front coming from the north, has also had an impact on Thailand’s rice crop.
The new rice harvest coming in is not of good quality, because it has flowered too early with this cool season’s unusually low temperatures, according to Vichai Sripraset, an honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association.
“When temperatures are low, the fertilization is bad, and then you get a lot of empty rice husks,” he added.
Meanwhile, Refugees living the in nine camps along Thailand’s western border are especially feeling the cold. The thin bamboo walls and leaf roofs of their small huts provide little protection against the cold mountain winds.
Naw Kler Soe, a student living in Mae La camp said that this year is the coldest she has experienced.
“It has never been this cold in the past, only this year is very cold. It’s hard for us to get up early and get ready for school. Some people don’t have enough blankets or warm clothes. School starts at 9am, but it is still very cold even at that time. Some of my neighbors get sickness such as running nose, fever and headache because of the cold weather.”
Saw Eh Pwo, a teacher at Mae La said he is worried about the cold.
“It is very cold this year. We worry our children will get sick because of the cold. It is worse for people in Zone C whose houses were destroyed in fire and they haven’t finished rebuilding their houses. Some houses still doesn’t have wall so, it is hard for them to cope with the cold.”
Naw Htoo, a resident at the Umphiem Mai camp said the cold winds of the mountains blow right through the camp.
“It’s freezing cold now. Normally, Umphiem camp is cold because it located on the mountain but this cold is different. The wind also blow and the cold feel like getting inside the bones. I got a fever and still have it. My youngest daughter [1 year old] gets a running nose quite often. We feel like we don’t want to get out of bed.”
Naw Htoo said it is hard to keep warm in the camps thin bamboo huts.
“We have to put together two-three sheets of blanket to keep us warm. Sometimes, we make fire on the stove put in the middle of the room and our whole family sit around it.”
“The elderly, young children and the sick should take extra care and if they need extra clothing they should contact the camp managers.”
The aid worker said that Umphiem Mai and Noe Poe camps situated in the mountains in Thailand’s Tak Province are “bloody cold.” Refugees are “lighting fires under the house to keep warm.”
A medic at the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai Burma border reinforced Thai public health warnings that children, the elderly and people fighting illnesses are particularly at risk and should ensure they get enough to eat and wear additional warm clothing.
The Thai Meteorological Department website confirms that minimum temperatures will continue to be between 8 to 13°C. And that it will be “very cold on the mountain top with frost in some places, minimum temperatures will be 2 to 8°C.”