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ASEAN steps in to try and moderate Thailand’s burning issue

PM2.5 air pollution in Chiang Rai
PM2.5 air pollution in Chiang Rai

The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Kao Kim Hourn, has pledged to support efforts to combat transboundary haze pollution in the region. During his official visit to Thailand, Kao Kim Hourn paid a courtesy call on caretake Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House, where they discussed various issues including the hazardous haze blanketing several ASEAN member countries, principally Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

This week Chiang Mai has recorded the worst air quality in the world on most days – a shameful situation that is affecting the residents and crushing the local tourism industry and reputation.

The transboundary haze crisis was a major topic, and PM Prayut emphasised the urgent need for a solution, requesting support from the ASEAN secretary-general. He asked Kao Kim Hourn to coordinate efforts to tackle the problem and hold an urgent meeting with member countries to discuss a solution, particularly measures to reduce hotspots in the region.

The Thai PM also highlighted that the problem poses a health hazard and disrupts tourism not only in Thailand but also in neighbouring countries.

Kao Kim Hourn agreed that the issue needs to be addressed urgently and stated that ASEAN has a set of mechanisms to secure cooperation from member countries. He pledged that the regional body was ready to provide support for concrete and timely cooperation.

Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai, a local resident filed a petition accusing PM Prayut of negligence for failing to take action to solve the PM2.5 pollution problem in the northern province between January and February. But the Chiang Mai Administrative Court dismissed the petition, ruling that the PM was not negligent as alleged, as the PM2.5 levels during the period were not considered a serious public disaster (tell THAT to the people living there).

Forest fires and hotspots remain a major concern in the region, with 215 hotspots detected in Chiang Rai province yesterday morning, and the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation deploying a number of helicopters with 5,000 litres of water to battle forest fires in the northern province.

Chiang Rai governor Phuttipong Sirimart noted that a check found that some of the fires were caused by burning along routes used by drug smugglers, and about 15 people have been arrested for allegedly conducting activities that caused forest fires.

In Chiang Mai, forest fires occurred in several districts, with winds blowing the smoke into downtown areas in the main city district, which is a valley surrounded by mountains that trap the smoke, making the situation worse.

Chiang Mai was again listed as the city with the worst air pollution in the world by the pollution monitoring website IQAir. At 8am this morning, IQAir reported the US AQI value for Chiang Mai was 222, which exceeds standard safety levels by at least 4 times. The Pollution Control Department reported that the province’s city area in Chiang Dao district, where most forest fires occurred, saw the worst level of PM2.5 at 364 micrograms per cubic meter with an AQI value of 474.

Here is the NASA Fire Map this morning…

Here is the air monitoring stations at today…

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