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Air Pollution

Officials hand out face masks whilst southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore choke

Tanutam Thawan

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Officials hand out face masks whilst southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore choke | The Thaiger

The annual haze from intentionally lit forest fires in Indonesia is making life unpleasant in parts of Thailand’s South, with fine-dust readings (PM2.5 microns) in Songkhla and Satun at hazardous levels, over 50 microgrammes per cubic metre of air. The problem is also choking sections of Malaysia and Singapore.

In Hat Yai, Songkhla, officials are handing out face masks to residents and tourists.

The Region 16 Environmental Office in Songkhla province on Friday reported the level of PM2.5 at 54 mg per cubic metre, which exceeded the safe threshold, set set by the World Health Organisation, of 50 mg. Satun was also above 50, but other provinces remained in the safe zone. The situation changes daily as the winds and weather change. With the south-westerly monsoon sweeping winds in from the Indian ocean, smoke from the Indonesian fires are now polluting Singapore and Malaysia as well.

The Region 16 office in Songkhla is advising people in Hat Yai to wear proper masks for outdoor activities, and immediately consult doctors if they have breathing problems.

(The flimsy paper face masks bought from pharmacies for a few baht do NOTHING to protect the wearers)

Meanwhile, hundreds held a mass prayer for rain in a smoke-filled Indonesian city Pekanbaru residents on Sumatra yesterday, desperately hoping that downpours will extinguish forest fires and wash away toxic haze covering wide swathes of the country that has forced mass school closures.

Illegal fires to clear land for farming are raging on Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands with firefighters battling round the clock through charred forests, and water-bombing helicopters deployed to douse the flames.

Dense smoke has blanketed Pekanbaru, a provincial capital on Sumatra, leaving the sky dark even at midday and residents fearing for their health.

Around 1,000 Pekanbaru residents – many dressed in white Muslim robes with rudimentary face masks – held a prayer Friday in an open field as a thick, acrid fog drifted around them.

“I’m praying so that the rain will come immediately and this smog will be gone soon,” said retired 57-year-old civil servant Rahmad, who goes by one name.

“It’s been really bad for the past month — I can’t breathe if I don’t wear a mask. Some of my neighbours have gotten really sick,” he told AFP.

Friday is a holy day in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, where forest fires are an annual problem but have been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.

Fatimah El-Kareem, a 26 year old mother, fled Pekanbaru with her baby over health fears.

“I was so worried. My child is only one year old and still so vulnerable,” she told AFP by telephone from hometown in another part of Sumatra.

“The smog isn’t only suffocating, but it smells terrible… Every morning it was just getting worse and worse – you couldn’t get any fresh air,” she added.

International concern has been mounting about the long-term impact of such blazes, as rainforests play a vital role in protecting the planet against global warming.

The governor of smog-hit Central Kalimantan on Borneo island – which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei – said yesterday that nearly 3,900 schools would be closed temporarily to protect students, with more than 9,000 shuttered in Sumatra.

Officials across the border in Malaysia said dozens of schools would be closed on Friday in the region surrounding its haze-hit capital Kuala Lumpur.

Frictions spiked after Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin this week accused her Indonesian counterpart of being “in denial”, after Jakarta insisted fires in Malaysia had caused the smog there.

On Friday, Indonesia said it had sealed off dozens of plantations where smog-belching fires are blazing, and warned that owners, including Malaysia and Singapore-based firms, could face criminal charges if the investigation turns up evidence of illegal burning.

Jakarta is struggling to tame the blazes as many burn underground in carbon-rich peat, which has been cleared across vast areas of the country for plantations.

“I hope farmers and companies stop starting these fires,” Rahmad said in Pekanbaru. “It’s a man-made disaster.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Local Thai journalist speaking fluent Thai and English. Tanutam studied in Khon Kaen before attending Bangkok’s Chulalongkhorn University.

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Air Pollution

Less monitoring, more enforcement – Prawit warns northern officials

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Less monitoring, more enforcement – Prawit warns northern officials | The Thaiger

PHOTO: The Thaiger

Thai Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan and Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa were in Chiang Mai yesterday to give provincial governors and state agency officials a ‘heads up’ in preparation for another looming season of forest fires and haze.

The North suffers perennial choking smog from approximately February to April, and Prawit passed on a message from PM Prayut Chan-o-cha who, he said, was fretting over the impact on people’s health.

He said the Environment Ministry would take the lead in coordinating with neighbouring countries and related local authorities to monitor the fire problem both in and outside Thailand.

The fires are lit in northern Thailand, and over the border in Myanmar, as burn-offs to prepare for the next year’s crops. Last year’s choking smoke haze was headline news for months.

SOURCE: The Nation

Less monitoring, more enforcement - Prawit warns northern officials | News by The Thaiger

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Air Pollution

Thai PM says Cabinet is adding new pollution controls, while academic finds solutions ineffective

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Thai PM says Cabinet is adding new pollution controls, while academic finds solutions ineffective | The Thaiger

In his weekly televised show yesterday, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said his government has always been concerned about air pollution, especially PM2.5 or microscopic dust particles, which he put down to smog from other countries, traffic jams, burning of farming waste, factory emission and dust from construction sites.

“PM2.5 is dangerous, especially for children, babies, pregnant women and elders, whose immunity is too fragile to tackle the microscopic dust.”

“People should be particularly careful during December as there are no winds or rain to blow away the dust.”

He also urged people not to panic, saying it is necessary to understand all the issues first. He explained that the Cabinet approved a proposal last week to tackle the pollution crisis at four levels.

“We have explained them to all provinces and have asked for coordinated cooperation”.

The premier had previously warned that the authorities would arrest polluting car owners. Meanwhile, an academic was pessimistic about the effectiveness of the measures implemented by the government.

Sumet Ongkittikul, research director at Thailand Development Research Institute told The Nation… “Removing polluting cars from Bangkok streets will not help much as long as diesel-powered vehicles continue plying the streets of the capital.”

Instead, he said, the government should follow China’s way of tackling air pollution in Beijing, where it promoted the use of electric motorbikes and cut down on the number of cars.

SOURCE: The Nation

Thai PM says Cabinet is adding new pollution controls, while academic finds solutions ineffective | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Prayut Chan-o-cha speaking in his weekly TV appearance – Royal Thai Government

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Air Pollution

Bangkok’s blue skies return, but light smog lingers

Tanutam Thawan

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Bangkok’s blue skies return, but light smog lingers | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Prae Sakaowan

The air pollution situation around Bangkok has vastly improved in the past 24 hours, returning to more reasonable readings around the city. Certainly most of the city is now reading under 100 and in the ‘moderate’ range of the air pollution scale, according to airvisual.com

Bangkok’s Pollution Control Department reported at 9am today that levels of particulate matter 2.5 microns and less in diameter (PM2.5) were measured at 19-52 per cubic metre of air in parts of the inner city. Some of the manufacturing hubs immediately outside Bangkok were getting higher readings.

Whilst the winds remain light (below) around the capital the threat of the poor air quality returning is ever-present. On Monday PM Prayut Chan-o-cha called on the private and public sector to work together to solve Bangkok’s long-term air quality challenges.

Bangkok's blue skies return, but light smog lingers | News by The Thaiger

Bangkok's blue skies return, but light smog lingers | News by The Thaiger

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