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Thailand’s Northern Provinces Prepare for Choking Annual Haze

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Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon directed policies to officials in nine northern provinces to prepare for the annual haze, generally hitting the region in the dry season.

He presided over the meeting on preparation to tackle ultra-fine dust at Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, Thursday.

The meeting discussed preventive measures against particulate matter air pollution and lessons from the haze crisis earlier this year. The main focus is to control open burning and to intensify operations against forest fires.

Northern Thailand suffers choking smog from February to April, and officials are again fretting over the impact on people’s health.

Prawit said the Environment Ministry would take the lead in coordinating with neighboring countries and related local authorities to monitor the fire problem both in and outside Thailand.

This is unfortunately almost a tradition, from February to April. Northern Thailand cities are hit by haze with smoke and particles. This pollution is not industrial or due to cars but it comes from agriculture and forest fires.

Despite a formal ban, farmers at this time of the year often burn their fields on both sides of the border. Multiply this by the number of their lands, these haze creates a significant pollution dangerous for public health.

Elderly people and people with breathing difficulties are particularly exposed. It is a situation that lasts for years and the authorities have never been able to stop it.

The Haze in Northern Thailand is Caused by a Combination of Factors

The burning of land is the main reason. Slash and burn farming techniques have been common over the centuries in the northern region. As well as neighboring Burma and Laos.

Some years, the smoke from the fires lingers because of climatic conditions. Lower than usual humidity levels, lack of wind and higher than average summer temperatures can all combine to exacerbate the effects of the pollution.

Because of the topography of northern Thailand, the mountains tend to hem in the smoke which nestles in the valleys below.

Although legislation is in place to punish people who set fires illegally, few people are caught or prosecuted.  In years where the haze and smoke has become severe. Thai armed forces are also drafted in to help put forest fires.

The smoke and haze affect numerous provinces in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai often makes the headlines during what some expats call the ‘smog season.’ However official statistics over the years show that the pollution is usually more severe in the provinces of Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai.

Other provinces in the north are also affected including, Lampang, Lamphun, Phrae, Phayao and Nan.