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  PlanetArk 22 Mar 07
Rain Clears Smoke in Thai North, But More to Come

Today Online 20 Mar 07
Hold your breath, now ... Haze back,
though not at hazardous levels seen in Thailand

Sheralyn Tay

Yahoo News 20 Mar 07
Emergency declared in northern Thailand as haze worsens

Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 07
Thai haze blamed on long winter

Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 07
Thailand considers declaring emergency over haze

Yahoo News 14 Mar 07
Disaster zone declared as Thai haze reaches dangerous levels

PlanetArk 13 Mar 07
Haze Hits Northern Thailand, Disrupts Flights
Story by Nopporn Wong-Anan

CHIANG MAI - Thick smoke from forest fires and slash-and-burn farming has spread over northern Thailand in the worst haze in 14 years, disrupting airline flights and irritating eyes and lungs, officials said on Monday.

The smoke from fires in Thailand and neighbouring Laos and Myanmar slashed visibility in scores of towns and villages, including the major tourism hub of Chiang Mai. "When I was driving to work this morning, I could see only 100 to 200 metres ahead of me," Taewan Dumronghud, a station manager for Thai Airways, told Reuters by telephone from Mae Hong Son near the Myanmar border.

"We can only hope that the rains will come sooner and wash it away," Taewan said, whose car was covered in ash at the airport.

The haze also disrupted flights to Chiang Mai on Sunday when air quality levels reached their worst in Thailand's second largest city. Thailand's mountainous north is a popular destination for adventure tourism.

The haze-affected areas are located near the borders of Myanmar and Laos -- the so-called Golden Triangle once famed for its opium poppy fields.

Weather experts said unseasonably cold weather had exacerbated the problem by pushing the smoke down into valleys and other low-lying areas. "Sixty percent of the haze covering the region comes from burning of farm waste after harvest, and the other 40 percent from forest fires," Anuwat Kunarak, director of the region's Environment Management Office, told Reuters. "

It's cheaper for farmers to get rid of the waste by setting it on fire and then switching to a new cash crop," he said, adding the haze was the worst recorded by his office in 14 years. Chiang Mai has been draped in a choking, eye-watering haze since last Friday, triggering health warnings for children and the elderly to stay inside or use surgery masks. Healthy adults were urged to stop all outdoor exercise. Many residents complained of burning eyes, coughing and sore throats from the smoke.

"This is the worst summer we have had," Pornsanong Teo, a 43-year-old father, said as he took his son to a city lookout point to observe the haze.

Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 07
Thailand considers declaring emergency over haze

BANGKOK: Thailand may declare an environmental emergency in tourist hotspot Chiang Mai and two other northern provinces after a thick smog blanketed the region, the environment minister said.

Kasem Snidwong Na Ayuttaya said air quality in three provinces was double the hazardous level after widespread forest fires and farmers setting blazes to clear land. The elderly and children were urged to stay inside, with some five million people in eight northern provinces affected by the haze, the health ministry said.

Tourism officials were also worried that holidaymakers would be deterred by images of the smoke and residents wearing surgical masks.

Air quality is measured in micrograms per cubic metre, with 120 considered hazardous. Measurements of 240 and 290 micrograms per cubic metre were recorded in the provinces on Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun, Kasem said.

"If the situation does not get any better, we will have to invoke emergency law, which will control people's activities," he said. If an environmental emergency were declared, authorities would be able to evacuate towns and villages as well as stop farmers from setting fires.

Cabinet was due to meet in two days to decide what measures to take. Visibility was down to one kilometre (just over half a mile) in the north of Chiang Mai province, while residents in Chiang Mai city donned masks, with some reporting health problems.

"I run every day, but I don't think I will run today. Everyone is wearing masks and there is eye irritation" said Viparwan Chaiprakorb, 48, who works for a non-profit foundation in Chiang Mai. "I can still see a lot of tourists coming in buses (but) it doesn't look good. If this goes on it is not going to help so much," she said.

Chiang Mai province, home to hundreds of temples and a popular base for adventure tourism, is one of Thailand's top tourist destination, and welcomed 5.5 million visitors in 2006, a 39 per cent increase from 2005.

"Absolutely (the haze) will affect tourism because it happened so suddenly," said Kajohnwit Boonsom, vice president of the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association. "Although there was not a significant number of immediate cancellations, it will affect tourists who are still making their plans."

The health ministry said it had already distributed 130,000 masks, with another 170,000 being passed out Tuesday.

Kasem said northern army units were working with the forestry department to control the forest fires, which began in late February and have been reported in about 1,340 locations.

The fires in northern Thailand, as well as neighbouring Laos and Myanmar, were caused by farmers trying to clear land and by people burning the forest to make scavenging for wild mushrooms easier, Kasem said.

All flights from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son town were suspended for the second day running Tuesday because of bad visibility. Other flights in the region were operating as usual. - AFP/yy

Yahoo News 14 Mar 07
Disaster zone declared as Thai haze reaches dangerous levels

Thailand's northern Chiang Rai province has been declared a disaster zone after haze hit the region, while the air quality in nearby tourist hotspot Chiang Mai reached dangerous levels Wednesday.

Eight provinces in northern Thailand have been blanketed in smoke and dust for two weeks after forest fires and agricultural burning in northern Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar and Laos.

Paiboon Wattanasiritham, social development and human security minister, told reporters Wednesday that the haze could remain for at least a month, which industry experts say will impact tourism and business in the region.

The worst affected provinces of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun have reported hazardous levels of particles in the air, and visibility has been reduced to as little as 800 metres (half a mile). No air quality measurements have yet been taken in Chiang Rai, but officials said the situation there was as bad as in Chiang Mai.

"(Chiang Rai) Governor Amornpan Nimanan has declared a disaster zone... and ordered all government agencies to work together to resolve the haze," said Kittirat Sornsue, head of the provincial disaster agency.

Air quality is measured in micrograms of particles of matter per cubic metre, with 120 considered unhealthy, and 300 considered dangerous. On Wednesday morning, the Thai Pollution Control Department website reported air quality levels of 382.7 in Chiang Mai, a mountainous province popular with tourists.

Officials in Chiang Mai said they did not plan to declare a provincial emergency, but advised people to stay indoors or wear a face mask. Thai think tank Kasikorn Research said the haze in the north could cause a two billion baht (60.7 million dollar) loss in tourism revenue for the region.

"March and April are very significant for tourism in the north because of school vacations and long holidays," it said in a statement. Flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son were suspended for the third consecutive day.

Global environmental campaigner Greenpeace on Wednesday urged Thailand to declare a environmental emergency in the north, which would give the government the authority to evacuate towns and stop farmers from setting fires.

However, Paiboon said the government would hold off on declaring such an emergency, instead leaving it up to individual provinces to decide whether to declare a local disaster zone, but he added: "If (the haze) worsens the government will declare an emergency."

He told reporters that artificial rainmaking machines would be deployed to try and alleviate the haze, while all hospitals have been ordered to prepare for an increasing number of patients.

"All residents, please stay indoors and use masks or damp clothes to cover your noses," Paiboon urged.

The public health ministry has distributed 300,000 surgical masks and enlisted 100,000 health volunteers to distribute the masks and offer advice about possible respiratory problems.

Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 07
Thai haze blamed on long winter

CHIANG MAI, Thailand: The haze that has blanketed northern Thailand for nearly two weeks may have been caused by freak weather patterns, experts say, warning of possible serious long-term health concerns.

While authorities in the northern tourist hotspot of Chiang Mai have urged tribal farmers to stop burning their fields and even banned street vendors from grilling meats, experts say unusual weather patterns are more likely to blame.

The haze, caused by slash-and-burn farming and wildfires in northern Thailand and parts of Laos and Myanmar, has choked eight northern Thai provinces for nearly two weeks, affecting some five million people. More than 13,000 people in the region have sought treatment for respiratory problems and other ailments blamed on the haze, the government said.

Experts believe the cold winter may have trapped the smoke close to the ground and prevented it from dissipating in the atmosphere.

Montree Chantawong, an environmental activist with a Thai organisation called Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance, said the haze could be the result of an unusually long winter in northern Thailand. The high pressure system associated with the cool weather may have prevented the smoke from rising high into the atmosphere, he said. "Normally in March the weather will reach a higher temperature, so the smoke will dilute automatically," he added.

Earlier this week, air pollution in Chiang Mai was three times the level considered healthy, prompting the government to pass out hundreds of thousands of surgical masks and to urge children and the elderly to stay indoors. Air quality has improved significantly in recent days, but on Friday remained at a level considered unhealthy, health officials said.

Vendors on the streets of Chiang Mai who are usually seen grilling meats for sale have all been shut down, but the city smells of smoke everywhere.

The government has also stepped up its patrols to stamp out forest fires in the hills. Ja Phet, a retired farmer from the hill tribes along Thailand's border with Myanmar, said farmers normally burn their fields at this time of year, but he struggled to think of a time when their activities had caused such a dense haze.

"Burning of farmland is a regular activity for hill farmers in this season, but this amount of smoke is unusual," Ja Phet said. Rains that normally wet the soil in northern Thailand in January failed to arrive this year, making conditions perfect for wildfires, Montree added.

Steve Thompson, who heads an environmental group called Images Asia - EDesk, said the El Nino weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean may have caused the unusual temperatures in northern Thailand.

El Nino is the occasional warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that typically happens every four to seven years and disrupts weather patterns from the western seaboard of Latin America to East Africa for 12-18 months.

It has been blamed for flooding in the Horn of Africa and Bolivia, more severe winter monsoons in South Asia, and a lengthy drought in Australia.

James Fahn, author of a book called "A Land on Fire" on the environmental effects of Southeast Asia's economic boom, compared the haze to the far larger Indonesian one that blanketed much of the region in 1997.

"What we don't know is the long term health impact" of such environmental disasters, he said. "This kind of haze is like smoking cigarettes, but with a cigarette, you only take one once in a while. This is continuous. So the big question is that doctors are afraid that in the future they will be higher incidents of lung cancer," Fahn added. - AFP/yy

Today Online 20 Mar 07
Hold your breath, now ... Haze back,
though not at hazardous levels seen in Thailand

Sheralyn Tay

AS THICK smoke from forest fires and slash-and-burn farming cloaks Thailand in its worse haze in 14 years, Singapore, too, has not been spared.

The Republic experienced a slightly hazy start to the week, with the overall PSI just falling out of the "good" range. At 7pm yesterday, the PSI reading went into the "moderate" range for a reading of 52--the highest level in March. It was the third consecutive day of slightly hazy conditions, with the 24-hour PSI ranging from 42 to 44 over the weekend. On Sunday, the smell of smoke could be detected in areas like Orchard Road and Toa Payoh.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), "smoke haze particles" from fires in the northern Asean region are being carried over by mild winds, contributing to hazy conditions.

"The weakening winds, which is typical during the transition from the north-east monsoon to the inter-monsoon during this period, has not helped in dispersing the smoke haze particles," said an NEA spokesperson.

Over in northern Thailand, the choking haze has disrupted air travel, and health warnings have been issued advising children and the elderly to remain indoors or use masks. Even healthy adults have been asked to cease all exercise outdoors.

Experts believe that the extended winter is trapping smoke close to the cold ground and preventing it from dissipating into the atmosphere. The cold is also pushing the smoke down into low-lying areas.

The haze has affected some five million people in Chiang Mai and parts of Laos and Myanmar. Media reports said that more than 13,000 have sought medical treatment for haze-related illness.

But here in Singapore, some did not even notice the hazy weather--although it still made its presence felt. Asthmatic Chris Dubberke, 27, had some difficulty breathing yesterday and had to use his inhaler pump, but did not realise the cause was the haze. But still, he does not foresee a return of last October's haze--where PSI levels hit 136, a record high for the year.

"It's not the first time Singapore has experienced the haze, so every time there are reports of haze I take the necessary precautions," said the psychology student. The NEA has said that it will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Yahoo News 20 Mar 07
Emergency declared in northern Thailand as haze worsens

The Thai government on Monday declared an environmental emergency in two northern provinces including tourist hotspot Chiang Mai after a choking haze caused by forest fires worsened.

Official figures showed that air quality in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces was still at unhealthy levels despite a general improvement across the northern region over the past few days.

Deputy prime minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham said the environmental emergency would allow authorities to evacuate villages if needed and impose drastic measures to stop farmers burning forest and farm materials.

"Villagers are still burning forests in the provinces, meaning the haze problem is not improving," said Paiboon, adding that expected rains in the next few days could also help disperse the haze.

Some five million people in eight provinces have spent weeks blanketed in smoke caused by forest fires, slash and burn agriculture and unusual weather patterns in northern Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar and Laos.

Air quality is measured in micrograms of particles of matter per cubic metre, with 120 considered unhealthy, and 300 considered dangerous. Chiang Mai province, one of Thailand's most popular tourist destinations, recorded air quality of 196 on Monday. This was down from last week, when air quality in there hit the hazardous level of 382.7 on Wednesday. Mae Hong Son on Monday reported levels of 284, while Chiang Rai province, where local authorities last week declared a province-wide disaster zone, recorded 201.

Tourism officials have warned that the haze could have a serious impact on tourism in the region, but Paiboon said health was top of their agenda, with thousands of people seeking treatment for haze-related conditions.

"The health of the people is our major concern, while the impact on tourism can be cured later," Paiboon said. "The number of tourist arrivals has decreased, but if we can solve the haze, Thailand can ensure confidence in tourists in the long-term."

PlanetArk 22 Mar 07
Rain Clears Smoke in Thai North, But More to Come

BANGKOK - Overnight rain cleared away choking smoke in parts of northern Thailand, but more will take its place soon as the deluge was a one off and farmers are planning to burn more stubble, officials said on Wednesday.

The rain, which came four days later than meteorologists had forecast, also brought wind that blew away the smoke from stubble burning and forest fires and air was clear in the region's main cities, they said.

"We had a clear sky this morning," an environmental officer said in Chiang Rai after the region's first rain since November in what has been an unusually long and dry cool season.

Smoke from burning fields and forests in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar had poured into valleys in the hilly region as a cold front prevented it from escaping into the atmosphere.

Authorities in Singapore said the city-state experienced a slight haze earlier in the week brought on by the fires in the region, but the air quality had since improved and was well within permissible levels. Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a reading of 52 on Monday following the haze but fell back to 40 on Wednesday as air quality improved. A reading of 51 to 100 indicates "moderate" air quality whereas a reading of 0 to 50 indicates " good" air quality.

"The slight haze could be attributed to the accumulation of particulate matter from around the region due to weak and variable winds," the National Environment Agency said on its Web site. "The sources of these particles could include the smoke haze particles carried over from the fires in northern ASEAN region," it said.

In Thailand's Chiang Mai, the regional tourism centre, the air quality went overnight from " dangerous to the health of children and the elderly" to acceptable levels, officials said.

But in nearby Mae Hong Son province, where flights have been disrupted sporadically for two weeks, there had been no rain and the smoke-filled air remained dangerous to health, a Thai Airways official said.

"Though we can fly two flights today, I won't say the weather conditions have improved significantly," airline station manager Taewan Dumronghud told Reuters by telephone from the town of Mae Hong Son near the Myanmar border. "We have to decide hour by hour if we can fly the next one."

And the clear skies of Chiang Mai might be short lived as no more rain was expected until early April, when the main stubble burning and slash-and-burn farming begins.

"Satellite pictures show trees have been cut down, awaiting a new round of burning to make land for new crops in April," Apiwat Kunarak, head of the northern environmental office, told Reuters. ( Additional reporting by Gui Qing in Singapore)

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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