Government offers to help Jakarta fight haze hazard
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Government offers to help Jakarta fight haze hazard

This was Lamai beach, Koh Samui, on Thursday, at the time that the Indonesian ambassador was telling the Foreign Ministry his country
This was Lamai beach, Koh Samui, on Thursday, at the time that the Indonesian ambassador was telling the Foreign Ministry his country "regrets" the haze over the region. (AFP photo)

The government is ready to help Indonesia tackle the haze pollution problem which has spread over large parts of the region after its envoy admitted the country's efforts are not enough to stop the fires, Foreign Ministry deputy permanent secretary Vitavas Srivihok said.

Speaking after meeting Indonesian ambassador Lutfi Rauf Thursday, Mr Vitavas said he discussed the impact of the haze, caused by slash-and-burn farming on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Mr Lutfi said he regretted the haze menace has spread to cover neighbouring countries, including Thailand's southern provinces.

The envoy said the Indonesian government was speeding up efforts to put out the fires but admitted his government alone could not handle the problem.

"The ambassador told me his government needs assistance from its Asean friends as the problem is serious. What they are doing is not enough to put out the fires and control smog," Mr Vitavas said.

"We are ready to step up as the Indonesian side has requested, but need to wait until their own decision-making process is complete first," he added.

The ambassador said Indonesia enforces stiff penalties for those found guilty of causing haze. The government would raise the issue at an upcoming Asean environmental meeting in Vietnam on Oct 27-29.

Meanwhile, the situation on the resort island of Phuket is still critical as haze particles from Indonesia's fires on Thursday surged beyond the safety threshold of 120 microgrammes per cubic metre, posing a risk to people's health.

Phuket governor Chamreon Tipayapongthada said the airborne particulate matter in the province reached its highest level of 201 ug/cu m in the past week.

Mr Chamreon said the haze situation has deteriorated since Monday and was likely to worsen further if Indonesia cannot contain the fires.

He urged high-risk groups including people with chronic respiratory conditions, the elderly, infants, and pregnant women to wear safety masks when outdoors.

Residents should also try to avoid doing any strenuous physical activities outdoors and drink water regularly during the day, he added.

A centre for tackling haze pollution has been opened to provide first aid for people who develop health problems such as eye irritation, a sore throat, chest pain, breathing difficulties, dizziness or vomiting.

The thick smog has also resulted in flight cancellations and delays at Phuket airport due to poor visibility.

Phuket airport director Monrudee Ketphan said the airport issued a warning about the haze after visibility at the airport fell to just 200 metres Thursday morning.

The thick smog forced flights by Katekavia, Nok Air and AirAsia to return to Bangkok.

Several flights from other airlines including Sri Lankan Airlines, Jetstar, Air China and Aeroflot were also delayed, leaving more than 1,000 passengers stranded at the airport.

Heavy layers of smog also blanketed Krabi, Surat Thani and Hat Yai airports, Ms Monrudee said.

Airlines were advised to exercise extreme caution to avoid possible accidents.

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