Smog crisis in North blamed on authorities’ top-down approach

By Pratch Rujivanarom | 15 May 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.