Thailand drafting plan to end annual smoke haze in SE Asia

Bangkok Post 7 Mar 16;

CHIANG MAI – Thailand is taking the lead in drafting a plan to set Asean on the road to becoming haze-free, hopefully controlling the annual smog that settles across the region from farmers burning off fields and forests.

The initiative emerged from a meeting of a working group of senior Asean officials in Chiang Mai, chaired by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Surasak Karnjanarat, to draft a roadmap for a sustainable solution to the problem.

The goal is to make Southeast Asia a haze-free region by 2020. The plan will focus on cooperation to solve the problem, with no binding penalties.

Thailand will propose the roadmap for the consideration of Asean environment ministers before the end of this year.

Wijarn Simachaya, director-general of the Pollution Control Department, said the problem of the annual smoke was at present being tackled via to regional groups.

The first was the Mekong subregion - Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia - which had earlier agreed to curb the number of fire hotspots in the subregion at a maximum of 50,000.

The other area of cooperation was among the lower Asean countries  - Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Brunei. They had each set standards for the maximum amount of particulate matter that can be present in outdoor air without threatening the public's health. For example, Malaysia and Indonesia set the standard at 150 microgrammes/cubic metre, while Thailand settled on 120 microgrammes.

Mr Wijarn said each country had to control burning to ensure that the particulate matter level did not exceed its own standard, which would help eliminate tran-boundary haze problems.

He said the roadmap will not include punishment clauses if the standards were not upheld. It would  focus more on cooperation to solve the problem in the Asean region.

For Thailand, the level of particulate matter smaller than 10 microns in nine northern provinces was at a  moderate level on Monday, with the highest being 119 microgrammes/cubic metre in Chiang Mai and Lampang.

Thai northern provinces usually blanketed in smoke haze from agricultural burning in open fields, while southern provinces are frequently cloaked in haze from forest fires in neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

Cabinet approves Bt93-million operational plan to fight haze in the North, Northeast
THE NATION 5 Mar 16;

THE CABINET has approved an operational plan to curb the haze plaguing the North this year.

The plan focuses on nine target provinces - Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan, Phayao, Mae Hong Son, and Tak - which have been hit by forest fires. Ministers also approved a budget of Bt93.8 million to fund operations.

Under the plan, emphasis is on the prevention of burning to ensure forest fires do not spread so wide that they will be difficult to control. The objective is to reduce damage that may occur.

It also calls for the mobilisation of forces from all sectors, as well as a volunteer network, to try to limit the haze. Responsible personnel will be provided with sufficient equipment to support their operations and monitor vulnerable areas.

Moreover, members of communities will be educated in forest fire control and be encouraged to participate in reducing burning throughout the critical period this year. Stricter law enforcement will be applied to people who start fires.

Governors of affected provinces will adopt the "Single Command" approach to deal with the situation. The Cabinet instructed 10 relevant government agencies to work in an integrated way with a centralised command set-up.

Forests drier, fire risks greater

In agricultural areas, the Ministry of Interior is working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in a campaign against burning, while the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry will serve as core agency handling the problem in national reserves and conservation areas.

Forest fires in Thailand are caused primarily by human activity. Collecting forest products is a leading cause of fires, followed by hunting and clearing of land for cultivation and raising livestock.

Official reports show that |forest fires are more frequent because of extreme weather and global warming, which have caused severe and widespread drought. As a consequence, forests are drier and the chance of fire is much greater.

The dry season each year, from January to April, is a critical period for forest fires and haze pollution, especially in the North and Northeast.

The Northern Rainmaking Operations Centre, meanwhile, has prepared both personnel and equipment to ease the haze in the Upper North, as well as boosting moisture in the soil in forests, and water for reservoirs.

The Prime Minister instructed officials to work in a proactive manner, as the haze problem will have impacts on public health, the environment, and tourism.

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