PM calls for regional haze cooperation

PM calls for regional haze cooperation

A fishing boat navigates the Narathiwat River on Tuesday. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says fighting the haze problem is difficult because slash-and-burn agriculture is ingrained. (AFP photo)
A fishing boat navigates the Narathiwat River on Tuesday. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says fighting the haze problem is difficult because slash-and-burn agriculture is ingrained. (AFP photo)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered the Foreign Ministry to work closely with neighbouring countries to tackle the chronic haze problem gripping Southeast Asia.

Short- and long-term solutions are needed to deal with the smog caused by slash-and-burn farming on Sumatra Island in Indonesia, Gen Prayut said Tuesday.

The premier's order came as haze pollution worsened in seven out of 14 affected southern provinces, with air pollutants reaching hazardous levels in four provinces, threatening people's health.

A thick layer of smog has blanketed Narathiwat, Pattani, Phuket, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani and Yala provinces for several days.

Residents in these provinces with respiratory complaints flooded local hospitals Tuesday, seeking help.

Gen Prayut had instructed officials in each affected province to spray water in the air to help improve visibility and to supply masks to the public. 

Countries in the region must cooperate to tackle the haze problem in the long term, the premier said. However, he said farmers in Southeast Asia have used slash-and-burn techniques for generations, which could be difficult to stop.

Meanwhile, around 20 Songkhla residents gathered outside the Indonesian consulate in the province to urge Jakarta to solve the haze problem.

They said more and more people in Songkhla are suffering health problems because of the smog.

"The level of pollution has increased in the last few days and many people including children are sick," said Banchorn Vichiensri who led the protest.

Meanwhile, the smog reached hazardous levels in four of the provinces -- Pattani (121 microgrammes per cubic metre), Phuket (134 microgrammes), Satun (141 microgrammes) and Songkhla (162 microgrammes), according to the Pollution Control Department in the South. The safe level is within 120 ug per cu/m.

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