Wildfires thicken air over Thailand into planet’s most toxic

Wildfires thicken air over Thailand into planet’s most toxic

Siraphob Thanthong-Knight


Bangkok, Thailand   /   Tue, April 2, 2019 /   12:32 pm

Top Asian finance ministers and central bankers are due to have a summit in northern Thailand this week, and they’ll need pollution masks if they want to avoid breathing toxic air.

Wildfires and crop burning are blanketing the region with smog, prompting Thailand’s junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha to fly to Chiang Mai — the area’s tourist hot-spot — early Tuesday to review the crisis. The city’s air quality index was 379 as he visited, the worst major urban reading globally and a level that’s hazardous, according to IQAir AirVisual pollution data.

The air was classed as unhealthy in nearby Chiang Rai, where finance ministry officials and central bankers from Southeast Asian nations as well as China, Japan, and South Korea will meet from Tuesday through Friday. The Bank of Thailand has said it will hand out pollution masks to media covering the event.

Thai authorities blame crop burning to clear farmland, as well as wildfires in mountainous forests amid a drought and searing heat. Chiang Mai has set up a so-called safe zone for residents in a convention center, while a university in Chiang Rai canceled classes on Monday and Tuesday.

“The haze usually comes and goes within a week or two, but it’s been persistent this time — it’s the worst so far,” Khuanchai Supparatpinyo, the director of Chiang Mai University’s Research Institute for Health Sciences, said in an interview. “This can be quite dangerous, and pose health risks.”

Northern Thailand is a popular destination for visitors during the traditional Thai new year festival in mid-April but the smog is likely to make some holidaymakers think twice.

At the start of 2019, the military government was rattled by the second year of spiking seasonal air pollution in Bangkok, exacerbated by traffic fumes, industrial emissions, and construction dust.

So far the episodes of smog haven’t damaged tourism but worsening haze could pose a challenge for an industry that’s key to economic growth.

Link: https://www.thejakartapost.com/seasia/2019/04/02/wildfires-thicken-air-over-thailand-into-planets-most-toxic-.html

Prayut promises to ease smog in northern Thailand in a week

Prayut promises to ease smog in northern Thailand in a week

PUBLISHED APR 2, 2019, 9:27 AM SGT UPDATED APR 2, 2019, 7:42 PM


Tan Hui Yee

BANGKOK – As choking smog continued to smother northern Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha flew to Chiang Mai province yesterday (Tues) and promised full government assistance to tackle the crisis.

The region appears to have been hit particularly hard this year by the haze, an annual scourge caused by forest fires and the illegal slash and burn method of clearing farmlands during the height of summer.

At 2 pm on Tuesday, vast swathes of the north in Nan, Phayao, Lampang, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, and Chiang Rai registered 24-hour average readings of fine airborne particulate matter that exceeded safety standards. The presence of pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers reached as high as 256 micrograms per cubic meter near the Myanmar border in Mae Hong Son province.

Fires continued to rage across the mountainous north, with Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency recording as many as 348 hotspots on Monday (April 1).

Handing out firefighting equipment to some officials on Tuesday (April 2), Mr. Prayut promised: “The government will support this operation with all its resources, to ease the problem within seven days.”

Embattled Chiang Mai governor Supachai Iamsuwan, under strong criticism for not doing more to tackle the problem, told reporters on Tuesday: “We will ramp up all operations and solve the problem within seven days. We will go down to the smallest (fire) in the villages.”

He added that the Chiang Mai administration had set up 297 places of refuge equipped with air-conditioning and air purifiers.

“We believe that the centers are suitable and we have enough, but we can add more if needed.”

But many Chiang Mai locals remained skeptical about government efforts.

Hotelier Pornchai Jitnavasathien dismissed the idea of the centers, saying: “It’s not working. It’s a crazy idea. You should be giving out masks and asking people to stay at home rather than moving them to centers.”

The government, he said, should have declared a crisis so that people could stay at home rather than risk their health by heading outdoors.

“If this had happened in Bangkok, there would have been a lot of pressure on the government,” he said.

In late January, still, winds concentrated city pollution in the air surrounding the capital, triggering an uproar in Bangkok. Officials rushed to check vehicle emissions and even halted construction work. In some locations, maintenance and firefighting crew sprayed water into the air, the same as they are doing now in Chiang Mai.

In the landmark general election on March 24, Chiang Mai locals cast their ballots in facemasks.

Hotel occupancy in the city – the second biggest in Thailand – typically hits 60-70 percent during the Songkran holiday period in mid-April, but is hovering at 30 to 35 percent now, said Mr. Pornchai.

Locals are now improvising on equipment try to make the air more breathable.

On Facebook, they are sharing tips on how to pair a regular extractor fan with a Xiaomi air filter, to create a home-made air purifier for just 1,200 baht (S$51). A full-scale purifier costs at least four times as much.

“If you don’t have enough money for an air purifier, this can help,” says freelance programmer Nattapol Kurapornkietpikul, 30, who was inundated with queries after he shared pictures of his idea on his Facebook account. Both items are now out of stock in many places.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/chiang-mai-haze-thai-king-urges-volunteers-to-help-pm-prayut-set-to-visit-smog-hit-city

Blaze destroys 500 hectares of rubber plantation

Blaze destroys 500 hectares of rubber plantation

April 1, 2019

Sen David / Khmer Times

More than 500 hectares of a rubber plantation on Saturday were destroyed in a blaze that spread from a forest fire in Kampong Thom province’s Santuk district.

According to a National Police report yesterday, the forest blaze spread to 530 hectares of the rubber plantation in Ti Por commune.

“Authorities used seven fire trucks to extinguish it and 530 hectares out of 800 hectares of the plantation were destroyed,” it said. “The blaze spread from a nearby forest.”

Thiv Van Thy, provincial Agriculture Department director, yesterday said the rubber plantation belongs to Korean company BNA.

“The company invested in the rubber plantation in that area and 530 hectares of it have been destroyed,” he said.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman of the Ministry of Environment, yesterday said Cambodia is now suffering from the El Nino weather phenomenon which is causing a hot and dry spell, noting that rains are not forecast for another two months.

He said wildfires, due to human and natural factors, can easily occur because of the hot and dry conditions.

“The main cause of fires is through burning to clear forests for planting crops, resettlement or catching wildlife,” he said.

In January, the ministry issued a forest fire alert over the dry season. It said people must be careful not to burn waste in or around protected forests and local authorities must also prepare contingency plans to fight forest fires to prevent the flames from spreading.

The ministry said that in case of a serious forest fire, the authorities should immediately alert people living nearby and evacuate animals.

“After a forest fire, the authorities must also collaborate with relevant sub-national administrations to prohibit people from inhabiting the cleared areas to allow for regrowth,” it added.

The ministry also reminded people that it is an offense to intentionally cause a fire in a protected area and those caught will be punished according to the law.

It added that it is confident that the public and relevant authorities will heed its warning.

Link: https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50592049/blaze-destroys-500-hectares-of-rubber-plantation/

Clamour grows for Upper North to be declared ‘smog disaster zone’ as forest fire hot spots top 3,000

Clamour grows for Upper North to be declared ‘smog disaster zone’ as forest fire hot spots top 3,000

By Sakaorat Sirima
The Nation

Calls for the Upper North to be declared a smog disaster zone became louder on Monday, as the haze crisis persisted and the region’s smog-generating forest fires soared to 3,088 hot spots.

Choking in particulate dust, many provinces have now called for urgent donations of N95-grade face masks for public distribution, while schools have installed air-purifiers or even suspended classes for students’ safety.

As some forest fires were reportedly caused by poachers lighting them in their search for puffball mushrooms, Chiang Mai supermarket franchise Rimping confirmed it would no longer sell canned Thai puffball mushrooms until it could be proved that such products were not, in fact, causing forest fires and haze.

Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, is also campaigning against the selling and buying of such mushroom and forest products reportedly obtained by the lighting of forest fires.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system cited a satellite image as of 2 am on Monday showing that there were 3,088 hot spots across nine northern provinces.

Mae Hong Son led the pack with 981 hot spots, followed by Chiang Mai (615), Chiang Rai (370), Lampang (302), Nan (219), Phrae (214), Tak (211), Phayao (116) and Lamphun (60).

In tackling multiple forest fires, the Third Army Region’s front command at Chiang Mai’s Kawila Camp coordinated with provincial authorities in an effort to put out the blazes.

The forest-fire situation was particularly bad in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, with Prakasit Rawiwan, head of Chiang Dao wildlife sanctuary, saying that things had worsened in the past two days.

Multiple spots on Doi Luang Chiang Dao were on fire, with the conflagrations so far having ravaged 100 rai (16 hectares) of forestland, he said.

However, officials have managed to put out two major fires in the Chiang Dao Cave and Pha Bong Cave areas.

Officials were continuing the fire-fighting mission day and night and now had the use a helicopter from the Natural Resource and Environment Ministry to back them up, while other teams were building firebreaks, Prakasit said, expecting the fires inaccessible areas to be under control soon.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son on Monday continued their calls for urgent donations of the N95-grade face masks for public distribution.

As Chiang Mai academics urged people to refrain from all outdoor activities and to wear N95-grade masks during this period, several private schools such as Montfort College and Prince Royal’s College installed air-purifiers in classrooms and campaigned for kids to wear the N95-grade masks.

Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang University, meanwhile, suspended classes and all outdoor activities on Monday and Tuesday this week, while spraying water around the campus and opening two conference halls at the E4 multipurpose building as air-purifier-equipped “clean rooms” for students and personnel to seek refuge.

In terms of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – the Pollution Control Department reported at 9 am on Monday that the levels in nine northern provinces ranged from 44-267 micrograms (mcg) per cubic meter of air.

The Thai safe limit of PM2.5 is 50 mcg.

Worst off were Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district (267mcg) and Wiang in the province’s Mueang district (188mcg), while Tambon Jong Kham in Mae Hong Son’s Mueang district cited 201mcg, and Chang Pheuk in Mueang Chiang Mai had 129mcg.

Link: https://news.thaivisa.com/article/33631/clamour-grows-for-upper-north-to-be-declared-smog-disaster-zone-as-forest-fire-hot-spots-top-3000

Air pollution reducing lifespans in south-east Asia

Air pollution reducing lifespans in south-east Asia

Published: Mar 29, 2019, 4:08 pm IST
Updated : Mar 29, 2019, 4:08 pm IST
Worsening air pollution reducing lifespans in Indonesia, which has lesser air pollution as compared to countries like India, Bangladesh, and China.

Environment Ministry responds to deforestation claim

Environment Ministry responds to deforestation claim

March 28, 2019

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times


Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra yesterday responded to public criticism blaming deforestation as the major factor for high temperatures in the Kingdom.

In response, Mr. Pheaktra said high temperatures are caused by climate change and are also affecting other parts of the world.

“Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases and pollution,” he said. “Please do not think that it is only caused by deforestation because the earth’s temperature can increase due to development in our cities. There are many factors contributing to climate change that should be considered.”

“The Environment Ministry has told other institutions to tell people to save water during the dry season because many sources are drying fast,” Mr. Pheaktra added. “We called on the public to join together to prevent forest fires. We also cooperated with communities by instructing them not to burn rubbish, which contributes to climate change.”

When asked about forest fires, Mr. Pheaktra said when compared to neighboring countries in the region, Cambodia has had 20, noting that Thailand has 100 hotspots, and Laos and Myanmar have 200.

“There has been no report of property damage from forest fires,” he said. “Some farmlands were damaged from forest fires.”

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandin said the ministry has yet to receive any reports regarding the impact of the heat on the health of citizens.

“We have seen some health effects but that was because the patients were not practising good hygiene,” Ms. Vandin said. “For example rashes, rashes are not caused by the weather. Rashes happen because of a lack of hygiene.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered officials to dig wells and transport water to areas severely hit by shortages of water.

“We can control the situation. The heat has not caused an emergency,” Mr. Siphan said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers in Battambang province’s Banan district are battling drought as their crops wither away.

Has Sarath, a 63-year-old farmer, recently told Khmer Times that times are tough.

“There is a serious shortage of water this year, there has been no rain since the end of October,” Mr. Sarath said. “This pond is almost dry and the water is not enough to sustain villagers because of the extremely hot weather.”

“Because of this, one hectare of crops cannot even yield one sack of rice,” he added.

According to a forecast by the Water Resources and Meteorology Ministry on March 12, temperatures in the Kingdom is expected to increase to up to 42 degrees Celsius in May.

“In April and May, the weather will be extremely hot, and sometimes it will reach 40-42 degrees Celsius, especially in the northwestern low lands and the northern plains,” the ministry said.

Link: https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50590952/environment-ministry-responds-to-deforestation-claim/


Officials risking public health by playing down smog

Officials risking public health by playing down smog

national March 28, 2019


After Chiang Mai and several other provinces in the North faced dangerous levels of PM2.5 for three weeks in a row, provincial Governor Supachai Iamsuwan yesterday promised to implement haze mitigation measures suggested by agencies, academics, and the public sector. He also ordered the creation of safety zones in every district of the province to provide temporary shelters for vulnerable groups.

Supachai said the first safety zone would be established at Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people. An air purifying system is being installed, while more safety zones will be designated in all 25 districts of the province.

However, Dr. Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, a medical lecturer at Chiang Mai University, lamented that despite added measures to mitigate air pollution, these efforts were neither strong enough to properly protect the health of local citizens in the North, nor would they solve the smog problem in the long run.

“It is a good start in terms of efforts to mitigate the seasonal smog crisis in the North. The Chiang Mai Provincial Authority has shown its intention to work with all stakeholders and accepted suggestions from academics and the public sector on solutions to relieve the smog situation and protect people’s health,” Rungsrit said.

 “But considering the seriousness of the current situation and the length of time citizens in the North are being exposed to toxic air, the authorities’ response is grossly insufficient and also too late to deal with the problem at hand.”
According to the PM2.5 daily average level database at the Pollution Control Department (PCD), the northern region has been suffering from dangerous PM2.5 levels for nearly a month. The annual smog season has already descended on the North with the hot and arid weather of summer, while Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are among the hardest hit provinces by the smog.

In Chiang Mai, PCD’s air quality monitoring system showed the city is choking on seriously harmful levels of PM2.5. The PM2.5 daily average in the city has remained above 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air for six days in a row, peaking at 282 micrograms last Friday.

The situation is even worse in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, where the PM2.5 level has not dropped below 100 micrograms since March 13.

According to Thailand’s air quality safety standard, a daily average level of PM2.5 higher than 50 micrograms is considered harmful to health, though the international safe limit for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms.

Rungsrit stressed that the serious PM2.5 crisis in the northern provinces had left local people, especially groups sensitive to air pollution and poor people in rural areas, facing a grave threat to health. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 can lead to serious diseases such as asthma, stroke, or even cancer.

“The authorities are risking many people’s lives with their delays and ineffectiveness in taking action against smog. In order to protect the image of the city, they are playing down the situation instead of prioritizing the health and well-being of the people,” he said.

“The authorities need to change this poor habit and alert the people about the threat to their lives by informing the public with real-time air quality measurement and educating people about the effects of air pollution.” He added that the governor’s plan to establish air pollution refuge centers in Chiang Mai was a step forward to protect those who cannot afford air purifiers. However, he insisted that this is just a short-term measure and both local authorities and central government must prioritize sustainably tackling the seasonal smog problem by working with all related stakeholders and governments of neighboring countries.

Link: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/national/30366673

Twelve named suspects as helicopters fight raging flames in Riau

Twelve named suspects as helicopters fight raging flames in Riau

PUBLISHED MAR 26, 2019, 12:26 PM SGT

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The Riau Police have named 12 people suspects in land and forest fire cases in Riau province, where wildfires have destroyed 2,719ha of land in the past three months.

The police arrested six people in Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis, Meranti Islands, Pekanbaru and Dumai from January to February, according to Riau police chief inspector General Widodo Eko Prihastopo.

“Six others were caught red-handed burning land to clear land,” Gen Widodo said on Monday (March 25).

All 12 suspects were farmers and residents.

Ten of the suspects are currently under investigation while another two were handed to prosecutors.

“All are individual suspects. None of them were corporations,” Gen Widodo said.

The police, he said, would not hesitate to take action if they found evidence of the involvement of a corporation.

The head coordinator of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), Mr. Edwar Sanger, said the wildfires were likely to keep spreading, as the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru was still detecting hot spots.

Mr. Edwar said Bengkalis was the hardest hit regency with 1,263ha of burned land. Most districts in the regency have experienced wildfires since early this year.

However, the most severe wildfires were seen on Rupat Island, where peatland was on fire throughout February, causing thick smoke that spread to the city of Dumai on the Sumatran mainland.

Aside from Bengkalis, severe wildfires were reported in the east coast areas of Rokan Hilir (407ha), Meranti (222.4ha) and Dumai (192.25ha).

Moreover, Mr. Edwar revealed that wildfires had ravaged 314.5ha of land in Siak Regency, 107.1ha in Indragiri Hilir, 64.5ha in Indragiri Hulu, 37.75ha in Pekanbaru, 26.6ha in Kampar, 5ha in Kuantan Singingi and 2ha in Rokan Hulu.

Riau Police spokesperson senior commander Sunarto said the Rokan Hilir police were handling three suspects who were caught red-handed burning 7.05ha of land.

The Bengkalis police, similarly, named one person a suspect for allegedly starting a fire that hit 0.5ha of land.

Five suspects were being handled by the Dumai police in a case involving 12.5ha of burned land.

The Meranti police named two people suspects for allegedly burning 3.2ha of land while the Pekanbaru police named one other a suspect for allegedly burning 0.5ha.

“One case in Dumai and another in Meranti Islands have been handed over to prosecutors for further investigation,” Mr Sunarto said.

Concerns over forest fires have grown recently, with the country having experienced an increase in damages cause by fires from 11,127ha of burned land and forest in 2017 to more than 30,000ha in 2018, Environment and Forestry Ministry data show.

The Indonesian military, the police, the BPBD, and the Manggala Agni fire department are attempting to put out the flames using aerial firefighting helicopters.

“The National Disaster Mitigation Agency already lent us three helicopters. We received three (more) from private parties and one more will be lent to us.” Mr. Edwar said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He added that the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the police and the military would also lend one helicopter each to help with the efforts.

Sumatra and Kalimantan experienced devastating fires in 2015, with more than 1 million ha of forest destroyed and dozens of people killed.

A prolonged dry season caused by an especially strong El Niño effect was blamed for the fires. However, environmentalists and rights activists have said they believe slash-and-burn land clearing for oil palm and other plantations is the real cause.

The government has taken strong measures against forest fires ever since, including fining companies. However, it has yet to issue court verdicts in any wildfire cases involving companies.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/twelve-named-suspects-as-helicopters-fight-raging-flames-in-riau

Dialogue and discussion on the agenda “SAVE TROPICAL PEATLANDS” between a delegation from Indonesia and the Kyoto University (Japan, 22-24 March 2019)


Japan, 22-24 March 2019


Integrated Training and Education in Forest and Land Fires Phase I, 2019 Year of RFMRC-SEA Office and Laboratory Forest and Land Fires Dept of Silviculture, (Bogor, 13 March 2019)

Bogor, 13 March 2019
Robi Deslia Waldi S.Hut


The Integrated Training and Education in Forest and Land Phase II held by the Indonesian Republican prosecutors’ education and training body aims to provide information regarding forest and land fires that occur and their enforcement.