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Greg Rodgers

Haze and Smoke in Thailand

By March 13, 2012

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smoke in Thailand

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Basically an annual event, a choking layer of haze and smoke in Thailand is making Chiang Mai and the rest of Northern Thailand less enjoyable for tourists.

Large,unmanageablefires are burning in Myanmar, Laos, and along the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The fires, which are typically set by farmers for clearing rice stubble to make room for new crops, grow out of control, and are largely ignored by everyone. Many spread into national parks to mingle with existing fires deliberately set to control undergrowth.

Although slash-and-burn agriculture and the deliberate setting of fires are illegal, measures are rarely taken to stop farmers from setting fires around this time every year. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has threatened to hold the provincial governors responsible if they do not take action to control the blazes this year.

I encountered the same fires while driving a motorbike from Pai to the Burmese border in 2006. The haze was suffocating as I literally passed through roadside flames.

While the fires themselves don't pose much of a threat, the accumulated smoke particles do raise concerns. Once you add Chiang Mai's fleet of sputtering, pollution-generating tuk-tuks and the stifling heat this time of year, the air becomes apocalyptic.

So how bad is the air in Chiang Mai right now? The particulate count reached 323.4 micrograms per cubic meter; the European Union safety standard is set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter -- meaning that the current air pollution is more than six times higher than what Europe considers safe.

The thick layer of haze has caused flight problems due to limited visibility, and has prompted many residents of Chiang Mai to wear masks when outside. Some evacuations in the Mai Sai district -- which is worse off than Chiang Mai -- have been proposed if air quality does not improve.

The government is even planning to seed clouds artificially to bring early rains around Chiang Mai, once humidity levels are high enough!

If you have asthma or respiratory problems, you may want to postpone your visit to Northern Thailand until the air quality improves. Hopefully, the situation will be under better control when Songkran -- the largest water fight in the world -- starts up in April!


Comments
March 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm
(1) Peter Mare says:

This is an annual event and it is not as if officials don’t know about it. Are they really doing all that there is to do to make this more bearable? Are there any programs on TV about the health concerns associate with this? Where are the doctors? The Nurses? The mayor? Are they all going to HUa Hin for a month or two? And, you would think that TOT would be very concerned! Where are they? How about a short-film by the king or the queen on this issue before a movie? How about presentations in malls? How about using one of those trucks blaring ads? What about fines?

March 14, 2012 at 11:05 am
(2) Scooter says:

No way they are doing everything possible. I’m convinced no awareness campaign as suggested would be effective due in part because the intended targets would have likely not be headed to he mall. 2 weeks ago I did a border run to Myanmar and the must have been 200+ hot spots along the route. There were signs posted along the roadway to educate about the danger of fires; villages being burned, temples being burned and such. Many of the signs were melted off the bamboo poles holding them due to the ragin fires.

There’s no fix untl the fires are stopped. Its no a new problem and one good year of rain only delays this year’s buring until next year.

March 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm
(3) goasia says:

You are both very correct; this has been going on for decades, and no one seems to learn the lesson! Perhaps the new PM’s threat against regional governors will work? Looks as though the officials in Chiang Mai would put some pressure on the people in Mai Sai and along the border, since it hurts their tourism.

March 17, 2012 at 8:35 pm
(4) Oilfall says:

Exactly, this problem is annual and each year there are discussions about how the problem will be solved as if the problem was completely new. Several years ago, it was suggested that all roadside meat preparation stands not cook their food in order to reduce the smoke, which is clearly a knee jerk reaction to the problem, and not a solution at all.

It is well known that the smokes source are the fires deliberately set in the standard practice to remove the rice stalk from the field. Frequently these fires go out of control and spread to wide are fires of the underbrush. The problem is not regional to Chiang Mai, but spreads across the entire SE Asian area, often with smoke covering the land from Laos to Burma.

There are initiatives to teach the farmers alternative methods to burning, but when viewed from the farmers point, I wonder how accepting the farmer will be to know they have to either do tremendous physical effort to till the stalk into the hard dry soil, or to use expensive mechanical methods to do this.

Awareness is also critical… an example from my own life occurred several years ago when in the highest level of airborne smoke, we took a visit to my wife’s farm house. There in the back yard they had an enormous smoky bonfire burning to dispose of the leaves and debris from the area… I just could not understand why they would just “Burn more” when it was nearly not possible to breath the air already…

April 29, 2012 at 2:27 am
(5) Paul Holbourne says:

I live in an agricultural district near Chiang Mai. The local “farmers’ have discovered that growing flowers, especially asters, is the best cash crop for them. It’s a case of food on the table is more important than spoiling the air!
The farmers grow one crop of asters after another. The waste from each crop is burnt, often late in the day or in the night. I live among this lot, and seem to be breathing in smoke on and off for weeks on end. I lost my voice for 2 weeks, and now, late in April, still have a croaky voice. We are now selling up and moving away.
This mono-cropping is not farming but “agribusiness”. It’s ruining the air, soil, insect and bird life. Chemical residues from sprays leach into the canals etc.
There needs to be an agricultural revolution in this country before the environment becomes totally devastated.

September 2, 2012 at 12:56 am
(6) Peter Baldwin says:

I live near Doi Saket, Chiang Mai province where we experience dense smoke pollution every year, starting about mid February and continuing to mid April. Despite annual expressions of concern from many agencies, nothing is done to stop the illegal and deliberate burning of many mountains and it is the huge areas of these burning mountains which cause the smoke pollution…..not the far lesser acts of burning the rice stubble even though the latter are clearly contributors to the general level of air pollution. Thai television news refers to the smoke pollution as ” dust” or “haze” ( the word “smoke” is avoided) and blames the rice farmers when the fact is that the problem is due to burning of the government owned mountains.

May 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm
(7) jaap says:

yes, my eyes are stinging day after day during thefield burning and resulting forest fires season. the farmers don’t seem to care even after the governments suggestions to limit the fires.
think about the loss of pristine jungle and all the wild animals dying in smoke and flames.
after 7 years in thailand i am thinking of becoming an ex expat.

June 22, 2013 at 1:49 am
(8) Melvin Thorn says:

I live in Chai Nat province and and the situation of the Thais obsession with burning is exactly the same. rather than plough in the crop stubble which used to be done 20 yrs ago according to my wife’s family (ex rice farmers) now it is burnt. The people don’t compost leaf litter they burn it. They don’t pay 2 per year for rubbish collection, they burn it.The council don’t cut the verges, they burn it. In all this burning tons of plastic must be burnt each year and this can be seen all over Thailand. Laws are in place banning this but are just ignored by the police. All this causes a permanent smog for about 3 months a year. What can be, that is up to the Government. The locals can continue to kill each other off with many dying between 40 and 50. My wife and I are off to the coast to live where there is usually a breeze to clear the smog. It is time the East wake up to what they are doing

June 22, 2013 at 1:51 am
(9) Melvin Thorn says:

I live in Chai Nat province and and the situation of the Thais obsession with burning is exactly the same. rather than plough in the crop stubble which used to be done 20 yrs ago according to my wife’s family (ex rice farmers) now it is burnt. The people don’t compost leaf litter they burn it. They don’t pay 2 per year for rubbish collection, they burn it.The council don’t cut the verges, they burn it. In all this burning tons of plastic must be burnt each year and this can be seen all over Thailand. Laws are in place banning this but are just ignored by the police. All this causes a permanent smog for about 3 months a year. What can be done, that is up to the Government. The locals can continue to kill each other off with many dying between 40 and 50. My wife and I are off to the coast to live where there is usually a breeze to clear the smog. This is nit just a Northern Thai problem but a National one.

August 14, 2013 at 6:16 pm
(10) Charlton91 says:

I used to think air was just air until l experienced breathing difficulties during the haze season. That was when I read up on dust particles and found out about the pollution index of the air that we breathe in daily. In fact, airborne pollutants come in all forms such as particulate, gases, vapours, fumes and mists. I searched around for a cost effective dust, fume and particulate removal system and highly recommend http://www.aafapcasia.com as many of the technologies used today to control air pollution were originally developed by them. With over 90 years of innovation under their belt, they know air better than anyone else.

August 23, 2013 at 5:14 pm
(11) Charlton91 says:

Modern industrial processes produce significant quantities of airborne pollutants in all forms – particulate, gases, vapors, fumes and mists. Many are toxic and concentrations often exceed safe levels of exposure. Reducing the pollutants to acceptable levels is critical for the safe operation of many industrial processes and mandatory to meet stringent emission regulations. Control of air pollution is important and every company should invest in air pollution control equipment. Please have a look at AAF International (www.aafapcasia.com) does for air pollution control solutions.

March 14, 2014 at 11:00 am
(12) Russell Mills says:

I have driven around the mountains west of Chaing Mai for the last 3 days I could only obtain a glimpse of their beauty through the smoke haze . I just want to express that NOTHING has changed since the previous people have commented . March 2014

March 18, 2014 at 4:36 pm
(13) Greg Rodgers says:

Hi Russell,

Thanks for the current report, and I was afraid of that. It’s about that time of year again. Chiang Mai would ordinarily be ‘home’ but I’ve made it a point to avoid the area around this season.

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