By THE NATION
MEMBERS OF the Chiang Mai “network for tackling the haze” urged Governor Supachai Iamsuwan yesterday to follow the Singaporean “Green City” model as part of many recommended solutions.
Meanwhile, the Royal Forestry Department announced an increase in forest fires this year in nine northern provinces. Officials and volunteers have reported 2,632 incidents so far that damaged 46,807 rai of forestland, in comparison to 1,490 incidents that destroyed 26,150 rai, during the same period last year.
In the petition, the network proposed solutions that can be implemented in three phases:
The immediate short-term phase requires declaring the haze an urgent matter, suspending schools during “critical haze period”, installing PM2.5-measuring devices in all areas and setting up a centre to control outdoor burning, by receiving complaints round the clock and create an online fire-monitoring network.
This phase also requires coordination with related agencies to carry out rain-making operations, an improved system to inform the public about the haze situation and a system to distribute face masks that can block the inhalation of PM2.5 – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter. The measures also cover encouraging use of public transport, controlling cars in city areas (such as cars with licence plates ending in odd numbers being restricted to odd days of the month), weeding out vehicles emitting toxic fumes as well as ensuring construction sites do not generate too much dust.
The middle-term solutions – to be implemented over a three-year period – involves getting agencies to plan long-term solutions in terms of garbage disposal, community-level installation of dust-detection devices and setting up clear indicators to determine Chiang Mai residents’ health.
Long-term solutions include making haze a key issue in the province’s agenda and coming up with a 10-year plan that outlines clear measures and goals, relocating the airport, developing a good public transport system, and building more bicycle lanes and footpaths. It also encourages planting more trees alongside roads, promoting alternative/organic/mixed crop farming, better control over single crop plantations to ensure farm wastes are properly disposed of after harvest and coordination with neighbouring countries to solve the problem. They also urged Chiang Mai to adopt good models from other countries such as Singapore’s “Green City”, which encourages buildings to grow trees by offering tax incentives.
Meanwhile, pollution eased in Chiang Mai yesterday thanks to some rain and strong winds, Chiang Mai Natural Resource and Environment Office director Saratcha Suriyakul na Ayudhaya said. He also thanked those who contributed by spraying water and cleaning road surfaces.
However, many areas of Chiang Mai still reported high levels of haze – 63-90 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre of air – according to the Pollution Control Department (PCD) at 9am. The PCD reported that the average 24-hour PM2.5 level in nine northern provinces ranged from 30mcg-171mcg, with tambon Jong Kham in Muang Mae Hong Son having 171mcg, tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district having 118mcg and tambon Chang Pheuk in Muang Chiang Mai having 90mcg.
Chiang Mai also saw an improvement in its ranking on airvisual.com. As of 11am, it was fifth with an air quality index of 165, after Delhi (230), Lahore (190), Shanghai (184) and Denpasar (175). The Chiang Mai haze has largely been blamed on forest fires – as many as 31 hot spots were reported as of 1.30am, most of which were in conserved forestland in Chiang Dao and Fang districts, Saratcha said.
The authorities imposed a ban on outdoor burning from March 1 through April 30, but so far only nine have been arrested, most of whom were poachers looking for forest products.
Saratcha said a campaign educating children about the negative impacts of people lighting fires in forests will be launched.
Mae Puem National Park’s division head Pathom Meesap said his team, tasked with fighting forest fires in Chiang Rai and Phayao have developed health issues and were seriously deprived of sleep. He said they have only slept for eight hours in three days.
He also said that many villagers in the North believe that delicious forest produce, such as hed thob or the hygroscopic earthstar fungus, is best grown in a hot environment, so they try to speed up the growth of these fungi by lighting fires. Also, he said, many fires stemmed from poachers leaving joss sticks tied to matches and returning the following day to pick up forest produce. This way they cannot be caught.