By Pratch Rujivanarom
THE FAILURE in the implementation of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) has led to the prolonged and severe haze season in the northern region of Southeast Asia, while the goal of a haze-free Asean by 2020 was far from achievable, environmentalists said yesterday.
Greenpeace called for tighter regulations to control the overseas operations of big food companies, as it highlighted that contract farming through the subsidiaries of the multinational corporations was a major factor behind the high number of haze hotspots this dry season in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia as well as the severe seasonal haze in the north of Asean.
Despite a slight improvement in air pollution from the accumulation of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in the North of Thailand yesterday, PM2.5 daily average levels in some areas such as Chiang Mai and Lampang were still above the country’s safe average. Unusually, the haze problem in the North this year is more severe at this time of the year as compared to previous years.
The air pollution monitoring stations of the Pollution Control Department (PCD) reported yesterday that Chiang Mai and Lampang still had a problem with the harmful level of air pollution. The PM2.5 daily average level of these provinces reached 66.56 micrograms per cubic metre of air and 58.47 micrograms respectively, which was higher than the safe standards of both Thailand and the World Health Organisation.
The PCD’s safe standard for PM2.5 daily average level was 50 micrograms, while the WHO safe standard was set at 25 micrograms. The Chiang Mai University Climate Change Data Centre said that the smog problem in the North was not only the result of increasing open burning activities within the region after the 60-day ban on burning ended. He said the hotspots outside the country also contributed to transboundary haze that also affected Thailand.
Greenpeace country director for Thailand Tara Buakamsri said the ongoing air pollution over the northern part of Southeast Asia and also in the North of Thailand pointed to the failure of the AATHP implementation and uncontrolled expansion of monoculture farming in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia through the contract farming system.
“Asean’s haze agreement cannot prevent or solve the problem of transboundary haze in the region, because it lacks the power to force the member countries to take constructive measures to tackle transboundary haze,” Tara said. However, he pointed out that the main reason for the recurrence of the haze problem in northern Asean was the result of expansion of monoculture farming and rapid deforestation in these countries.
“From the satellite data of Nasa, it was seen that Cambodia has the highest rate of deforestation in Asean. This is partly the result of contracted farming investment in the country, which in turn increases the number of hotspots from open-burning activities in agricultural sector,” he said.
“A similar problem has also been noticed in Laos and Myanmar, as big food companies continue to invest through subsidiaries and expand monoculture farming in these regions. This requires burning during the dry season to clear leftover material on the field to prepare for the new crop in the rainy season.”
He called for control over contract farming in these countries through tighter regulation, similar to how Singapore had imposed strict rules on multinational palm oil companies that invested in Indonesia. Otherwise the regional goal to be haze-free by 2020 will be impossible.