Air quality in North still 'critical'

Air quality in North still 'critical'

This aerial handout photo taken on March 18, 2020 and released by Thai volunteer group Jit Arsa shows smoke rising from fires in Mae Rim district in northern Chiang Mai province, where the blazes have severely impacted air quality. (AFP PHOTO / JIT ARSA)
This aerial handout photo taken on March 18, 2020 and released by Thai volunteer group Jit Arsa shows smoke rising from fires in Mae Rim district in northern Chiang Mai province, where the blazes have severely impacted air quality. (AFP PHOTO / JIT ARSA)

Air pollution remains critical in northern Thailand as arson, drought-fuelled wildfires and prevailing wind patterns produce hazardous levels of toxic pollutants.

A combination screenshot from https://aqicn.org/city/chiang-mai/ and https://www.iqair.com/thailand/chiang-mai at 10.30am on Monday.

According to the State of Global Air report for 2019, PM2.5 caused 23,800 premature deaths in Thailand in 2017. By comparison, the Covid-19 pandemic that has plunged the country into panic has so far killed seven people.

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said fires have undoubtedly affected air quality, with 17 provinces in the North reporting an increase in levels of PM2.5 pollutants on Sunday.

Only Nakhon Sawan and Uthai Thani reported PM2.5 readings below the Pollution Control Department's "safe" threshold, set at 50 μg/m³ .

Chiang Dao district in Chiang Mai reported the highest PM2.5 reading in the North on Sunday at 360μg/m³.

Ms Narumon said the worsening pollution is caused by a combination of factors which include arson, drought and prevailing wind patterns which trap pollutants right above Thailand. Others say agribusiness has exacerbated the problem.

According to satellite data from the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda), as of Saturday, there were 3,809 hotspots in Thailand, 5,061 in Laos and 10,061 in Myanmar.

As of Sunday, 398 hotspots -- or almost 10% of the country's hotspots -- were found in Chiang Mai.

Most of the blazes were related to an ongoing bushfire in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in Chiang Mai's Muang district, which suddenly raged out of control late on Saturday after burning for about a week.

Authorities deployed four helicopters to combat the blaze, while drones and paragliders were sent to help detect hotspots and suspicious activities among villagers, who have been blamed for starting the forest fires to clear land for agriculture.

A source said that after several fires near Hmong villages within the park and in nearby Hang Dong district were found to have been deliberately set, local villagers in the area have been instructed not to engage in slash-and-burn farming until April 30.


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