Smog crisis in North blamed on authorities’ top-down approach
By Pratch Rujivanarom | May 15, 2019
ACADEMICS PUT down the authorities’ failure to control this year’s smog crisis in the North to an inappropriate “command-and-control approach”, adding that this problem will persist if the strategy is not revised.
Naporn Popattanachai, director of Thammasart University’s Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Law, said drought next year will worsen if the authorities do not change their approach and bring the public on board when it comes to dealing with air pollution.
Though the smog season has come to an end with rains arriving in the North, Naporn said evidence such as PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size), hotspots and the duration indicate that the smog situation this year lasted longer and was more severe than previous years. This also proves that the government’s measures to control the problem have failed, he said.
He added that the smog-tackling measures failed because they lacked a holistic approach and did not deal with the different sources, as the authorities only focused on banning outdoor fires, which eventually turned farmers against the authorities.
“We observed that despite the ban, wildfires and hotspots took place anyway, intensifying the smog in the North,” he said. “This only proves that the authorities’ top-down command-and-control approach, forcing people not to burn farming waste in their fields and starting wildfires to gather forest products, is no longer effective as farmers are not interested in complying with the authorities.”
Sonthi Kotchawat, a leading environmental health expert, said outdoor fires were responsible for 54 per cent of the overall PM2.5 emissions.
Naporn, meanwhile, said the only way this situation can be reversed is if the authorities bring people on their side when it comes to tackling the problem from every source.
“The authorities need to change their approach, and call on local people to work with them to achieve sustainable solutions to control outdoor fires and other sources of pollution,” he said.
Admitting that the factors behind the smog crisis are very complicated and complex, he said they are still connected to several structural issues and involve multiple stakeholders, including influential big food companies, he said. In fact, he added, as consumers we should also be able to seek sustainable solutions to the chronic smog problem in the North.
For instance, he said, maize farmers are forced to set fire to farm waste and encroach into forests to expand their fields because big food companies require larger harvests. Since they earn little for their crops, the farmers have no choice but to cut down their production costs by practising the cheaper slash-and-burn technique to prepare their farm for the next crop.
“By imposing the right regulations to relieve farmers’ burden from contract farming, we can help them switch their farming techniques to more environmentally friendly ones and greatly cut down on the generation of pollution,” he suggested.
He also added that the policies for tackling smog should be flexible, in order to adapt to the changing situation and allow all related stake holders to change their practices.
The results underline the importance of establishing an early-warning system for droughts, according to Janice Ser Huay Lee of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. “Mitigation of fires would come from monitoring ignition sources during droughts, especially in low-population peatland, in areas that have been burnt in recent years, and in close proximity to roads,” she says. “These criteria could be incorporated into the Indonesian authorities’ existing fire-monitoring systems.”
The role that drought played in the crisis might be obvious: 2015 was an El Niño year, and such conditions are strongly associated with fires in Southeast Asia. Rainfall is just one element, however, and identifying the other parts of the picture could help prevent future disasters on this scale.
To determine the power of those other influences, Lee and colleagues Jocelyne Shimin Sze and Jefferson, also at Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, compiled 18 possible contributory factors to weigh against the likelihood of fires in three provinces of Sumatra, where burning was most extensive.
Fire risk is broadly a product of two components: circumstances that predispose a landscape to fire; and sources of ignition. The team’s list of variables encompassed both, spanning everything from environmental conditions such as rainfall, slope and forest degradation, to human elements like economics, population and conflict.
The researchers conducted analyses at two different geographical scales. First, they characterized each pixel in a satellite image according to the potential contributing factors, and classified it depending on whether burning did or did not take place within that 1 sq. km. The output was an ordered list showing the relative influence of each factor on overall fire risk.
In the other analysis, the group considered the possible predictors at the regency scale — a political division larger than a city and smaller than a province. From these predictors, they created a set of statistical models that varied in how efficiently they accounted for the number of fires in each regency.
Both analyses showed that fires were more likely where mean monthly rainfall was below 150 mm, the ground was flat enough for agriculture or peat extraction, and population density was low but not zero. Proximity to roads was a secondary factor also common to both.
“For these to come up as strongly affecting both fire count and occurrence suggests that they play an important role in contributing to the number of fires within the regency and occurrence of fires at that particular location,” says Sze.
There were differences between the scales, however. “Factors related to economic land use came out more strongly under the regency-scale analysis, and factors related to forest degradation came out more strongly under the pixel-scale analysis,” says Sze. “It is partly a reflection of the different techniques used, but it also says something about evaluating drivers of fires when we use a count or an occurrence response for fires.”
The Forest Survey of India’s large forest fires monitoring programme data shows that there are 192 large, active fires in the country today
As many states face higher than normal maximum temperature, instances of large fires have increased more than six times across the country within this week.
The Forest Survey of India’s (FSI’s) large forest fires monitoring programme data shows that there are 192 large, active fires in the country today (May 10). This figure was at 30 when this week began.
Highest number of fires is being reported from Uttarakhand (91), Chhattisgarh (36), Madhya Pradesh (17) and Uttar Pradesh (11). The corresponding figures for the instances of large fires on May 6 for these states were 4, 7, 4 and 2 respectively.
According to the India Metrological Department (IMD) data, on May 9, maximum temperatures were 3.1 to 5 degree Celsius above normal at most places in Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, east Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Marathwada and coastal Andhra Pradesh.
The highest maximum temperature was recorded at Banda (east Uttar Pradesh) at 46.2° C. Uttarakhand has seen a sudden spurt in large fire instances, as temperatures peaked along with a rain deficit.
“The main reason for the spike in these large fire incidences is increase in temperature and rain fall deficit. Temperatures across the state have risen by at least 4° C, and there has been no rain since last week. We have all the resources at work to control the fires and prevent the loss of flora and fauna across the state,” Uttarakhand chief conservator of forest (forest fire and disaster management) PK Singh told Down to Earth.
The total number of fire incidences in the state, including but not limited to the large fire instances recorded by FSI, stands at 473 on May 10 — affecting 644 hectares of forest area. So far, five people have been injured and five animals have died in the fire. The loss caused by the fires is estimated to be around Rs 10.53 crore.
The forestry department has signed a contract with a private company for the lease of two helicopters to fight fires during the summer, the department announced on Friday.
The contract is valid for this and next year, with an option to renew it in 2021.
The amount to be paid per year is €1,599,250 excluding VAT, slightly less than last year.
According to the announcement, the forestry department will be responsible for the management of the contract while the fire services will have operational control.
A request to include the cost for the two leased helicopters in the newly created ‘rescEU transition’ is being prepared and will be submitted to the European Commission.
The Republic of Cyprus, under this mechanism, will receive financial support which may cover as much as 75 percent of the cost for the fire-fighting aircraft.
The European Commission’s proposal to strengthen the EU’s collective response to natural disasters, rescEU entered into force on March 21.
Numerous disasters have affected regions of Europe in recent years, causing hundreds of casualties and billions in damage to infrastructure.
To protect member states better, “the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission reached an agreement last December to strengthen the existing EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The upgraded EU Civil Protection Mechanism establishes a new European reserve of capacities (the so-called rescEU reserve), including firefighting planes and helicopters, while boosting disaster prevention and preparedness measures,” the European Commission said.
To ensure that Europe is prepared for this year’s forest fire season the new legislation includes a transition phase during which participating states can get funding in exchange for putting their firefighting means at the disposal of the EU.
A small wildfire is underway at Sugar Pine Road and Big Reservoir Lane, about five miles northeast of Foresthill in Placer County, according to a Cal Fire tweet Friday afternoon.
Sugar Pine Road is currently closed, officials said, and visitors are being asked to avoid the area.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Foresthill Fire Protection District are assisting U.S. Forest Service officials with the Sugar Fire, said Joe Flannery, a spokesman for the Tahoe National Forest.
By 5:30 p.m., the fire had burned 25 to 35 acres with more than 100 personnel responding, Flannery said.
The personnel included four hand crews, six engines, two helicopters, two water tenders, a bulldozer, Flannery said. Three air tankers that were performing fire retardant drops during the afternoon had been dismissed.
Crews will be doing fire containment through the night, Flannery said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The fire started at 12:38 p.m. Friday, said Mary Eldridge, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.
“We’ve got a north wind so every resource available is heading out there,” Eldridge said at about 3 p.m. Friday.
The fire is located two miles southeast of Sugar Pine Reservoir and the Forbes Creek campground and about 10 miles east of Colfax.
Forest fire just fails to reach revered Guan Yin shrine in Mae Hong Son
Breaking News May 06, 2019
By The Nation
The northern province of Mae Hong Son continued to see forest fires at the weekend, with one of them almost reaching a revered Guan Yin shrine in Muang district Sunday night, officials said.
A fire broke out in the forest behind the shrine on the Mae Hong Son bypass in Ban Mai Ngae village of Tambon Pang Moo at 7 pm, surprising and scaring villagers and motorists.
Firefighters quickly dug a buffer zone about 10 meters from the shrine and houses to prevent the blaze from spreading while fire engines moved in to douse the flames.
Almost simultaneously, another fire broke out on a mountaintop near Ban Mai Ngae and spread to Ban Pong Daeng and Ban Soppong villages, damaging some 50 rai of the forest.
Kampanat Prajongpim, chief of the Mae Sariang forest fire station, said the fires were apparently started by local villagers burning weeds and leaves.
Kampanat added that northern province continued to be hit with multiple fires because the villagers wanted to burn the forests in the hope of promoting the growth of mushrooms when the rains come.
Kampanat said his station had to dispatch officials to work with firefighters of the Forestry Department and troops and firefighters of the Muang Mae Hong Son Municipality to fight the blazes around Muang district. He reiterated that the fires were set intentionally by certain locals.
Tambon Pang Moo and Tambon Pha Pong were the hardest hit by the forest fires.
Forest fires in Mae Hong Son intensified after the government lifted a ban on weed burning on April 30. After the ban ended, farmers burned their fields, causing a rise in smog and air pollution.
As of 9 am Monday, the amount of PM2.5 – particles of no more than 2.5 millimeters in diameter – in Tambon Jongkham was measured at 36 micrograms per cubic meter of air, lower than the safe limit of no more than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The level has risen gradually from the 23 micrograms measured on May 4.
Forest fires are causing snow to melt earlier in the season, a trend occurring across the western U.S. that may affect water supplies and trigger even more fires, according to a new study by a team of researchers at Portland State University (PSU) , the Desert Research Institute (DRI), and the University of Nevada, Reno.
It’s a cycle that will only be exacerbated as the frequency, duration, and severity of forest fires increase with a warmer and drier climate.
The study, published May 2 in the journal Nature Communications, provides new insight into the magnitude and persistence of forest fire disturbance on critical snow-water resources.
Researchers found that more than 11 percent of all forests in the West are currently experiencing earlier snowmelt and snow disappearance as a result of fires.
The team used state-of-the-art laboratory measurements of snow samples, taken in DRI’s Ultra-Trace Ice Core Analytical Laboratory in Reno, Nevada, as well as radiative transfer and geospatial modeling to evaluate the impacts of forest fires on snow for more than a decade following a fire. They found that not only did snowmelt an average five days earlier after a fire than before all across the West, but the accelerated timing of the snowmelt continued for as many as 15 years.
“This fire effect on earlier snowmelt is widespread across the West and is persistent for at least a decade following the fire,” said Kelly Gleason, the lead author and an assistant professor of environmental science and management in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Gleason, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Desert Research Institute, and her team cite two reasons for the earlier snowmelt.
First, the shade provided by the tree canopy gets removed by fire, allowing more sunlight to hit the snow. Secondly and more importantly, the soot — also known as black carbon — and the charred wood, bark, and debris left behind from a fire darkens the snow and lowers its reflectivity. The result is like the difference between wearing a black t-shirt on a sunny day instead of a white one.
In the last 20 years, there’s been a four-fold increase in the amount of energy absorbed by snowpack because of fires across the West.
“Snow is typically very reflective, which is why it appears white, but just a small change in the albedo or reflectivity of the snow surface can have a profound impact on the amount of solar energy absorbed by the snowpack,” said co-author Joe McConnell, a research professor of hydrology and head of the Ultra-Trace Ice Core Analytical Laboratory at DRI. “This solar energy is a key factor driving snowmelt.”
For Western states that rely on snowpack and its runoff into local streams and reservoirs for water, early snowmelt can be a major concern.
“The volume of snowpack and the timing of snowmelt are the dominant drivers of how much water there is and when that water is available downstream,” Gleason said. “The timing is important for forests, fish, and how we allocate reservoir operations; in the winter, we tend to control for flooding, whereas in the summer, we try and hold it back.”
Early snowmelt is also likely to fuel larger and more severe fires across the West, Gleason said.
“Snow is already melting earlier because of climate change,” she said. “When it melts earlier, it’s causing larger and longer-lasting fires on the landscape. Those fires then have feedback into the snow itself, driving even earlier snowmelt, which then causes more fires. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Gleason will continue to build on this research in her lab at PSU. She’s in the first year of a grant from NASA that’ll look at the forest fire effects on snow albedo, or how much sunlight energy its surface reflects back into the atmosphere.
South Sumatra forest fire task force identifies five fire-prone areas
Reporter: Eliswan Azly
Editor: Bambang Purwanto
Palembang (ANTARA) – The South Sumatra Forest and Land Fire Task Force have identified five fire-prone areas, the districts of Ogan Ilir, Ogan Komering Ilir, Musi Banyuasin, Muara Enim, and Banyuasin.
In Palembang on Thursday, commander of the South Sumatra Forest and Land Fire Task Force, Col. Arh Sonny Septiono, said that the five regions were their priorities because they had extensive peatlands.
“Basically, we are looking at all regions, but of course we will prioritize certain areas, given the limitations of existing personnel and equipment,” said Colonel Arh Sonny Septiono.
According to him, currently, the alert status of forest and land fires have been activated, and personnel and command posts operating in 2018 have been revived as the initial step while awaiting a countermeasure program for 2019.
Until the beginning of May 2019, he admitted there had been several peatland fires even on a small scale.
According to the Governor of South Sumatra’s decree, he said forest and land fires occur from April 1 to October 31, 2019, and their operational patterns do not change much.
“In the meantime, we are coordinating meetings to equalize perceptions between agencies to see developments in the field, but we continued our programs last year,” he explained.
The South Sumatra Fire Task Force, he said, prioritizes the readiness of personnel and equipment in operations and maximizes prevention, namely by training companies or residents around the peatlands.
In addition, the task force has also received information on the current status of El Nino as the dry season enters, the effects of which are expected to increase in June, July and August.
“Based on BMKG’s information, El Nino’s vulnerability is indeed quite high; but in principle, we are ready,” said Colonel Arh Sonny Septiono.
Head of the South Sumatra Forestry Service Pandji Tjahjanto said his agency would create an integrated data center to support forest and land fire management operations.
“The data center will accommodate the latest information from various sources related to the operation of forest and land fires, not as comparable data on task forces, but as partners to share data, so there is no more confusion,” explained Pandji.
He added that the South Sumatra Forestry Service will launch the data center after Eid al-Fitr (Mulim post fasting festivities).
Village-watch teams told to be vigilant as firefighters withdraw from Mae Hong Son
national May 02, 2019 01:00
By TOSSAPOL BOONPAT
MAE HONG SON (The Nation) – Mae Hong Son governor Sirirat Chamupakarn has instructed village wildfire-watch teams to remain vigilant even though the province’s 61-day ban on outdoor fires ended on Tuesday and the level of fine dust particles in the air was below the safe limit for the first time in two months.
The Pollution Control Department (PCD) at 9 am yesterday put the 24-hour average of PM2.5 – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – at between 24 and 114 micrograms per cubic meter of air in nine northern provinces.
Tambon Jong Kham in Muang Mae Hong Son was at 38mcg – within the Thai safe limit of 50mcg (the World Health Organisation safe limit is 25mcg).
Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district was worst off with 114mcg, followed by Tambon Wiang in Muang Chiang Rai at 111mcg, Tambon Nai Wiang in Muang Nan at 67mcg and Tambon Ban Tom in Muang Phayao at 63mcg.
In Chiang Mai’s Muang district, Tambon Chang Pheuk and Tambon Sri Phum cited 57mcg and 55mcg respectively.
Firefighters continued tackling forest fires yesterday in Mae Hong Son province, where there were 10 hotspots according to a satellite image released at 2.33am – five in Muang, four in Pai and one in Pang Mapha districts.
At a meeting on Tuesday to conclude the ban on outdoor fires, it was reported that fires in Mae Hong Son had damaged 203,889 rai (32,622 hectares) of forestland from January 1 to March 16 and that there had been 1,499 hotspots in the province from January 1 to April 29.
At the meeting, Sirirat called on village wildfire-watch teams to remain vigilant for newly sparked fires during the dry season, now that backup firefighters and soldiers have been withdrawn.
In Phayao province, where the weather is still dry and temperatures are above 40 degrees Celsius, people were still battling many forest fires, including a major blaze near Doi Luang in Muang district that ignited on Monday and has already destroyed more than 100 rai of forestland.
Officials and volunteers continued working to put out the Doi Luang fire in order to protect farms and the Champathong Waterfall, and hope to have it completely extinguished by tomorrow, leaving the flames in hard-to-reach areas to burn themselves out.
With forest fires contributing to the high levels of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter
CHIANG RAI – Although it was the last day of the ban on the outdoor burning ban in nine northern provinces on Tuesday, multiple forest fires continued to be a problem.
A satellite report cited 107 hotspots in the region on Monday with 35 locales in Chiang Rai and 15 sites in Chiang Mai.
With forest fires contributing to the high levels of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – the 24-hour average of PM2.5 in the nine provinces at 9 am on Tuesday ranged between 29-109 micrograms per cubic metres of air, according to the Pollution Control Department. The Thai safe limit is 50 mcg of PM2.5.
The air in Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district was worst off at 109mcg, followed by Tambon Wiang of Muang Chiang Rai (102mcg), Tambon Ban Tom in Muang Phayao (66mcg), and Tambon Chang Pheuk in Muang Chiang Mai (62mcg).
In Phayao’s Muang district, officials and volunteers continued to battle the forest fire near Doi Luang for the second day on Tuesday, in a bid to prevent it from reaching farmlands after it had already damaged 100 rai (16 hectares) of forestland.
It was expected that the Doi Luang fire would be put off by 1-2 days while those on hard-to-reach steep slopes would be left to burn out by themselves.
During the attempt to put off the Doi Luang fire at 5 pm on Monday, 59-year-old volunteer Kuan Oi-wan choked on smoke and passed out, prompting others to pull him out and rush him to hospital. He was recovering as of press time.
Another fire within a teak tree forest near Phayao University’s medical center in Tambon Mae Ka was promptly extinguished on Thursday by firefighters, related officials, and volunteers.