of late March 2007 the pollution levels in northern Thailand have
declined to more manageable levels, although a haze remains which,
unfortunately is normal for this time of year. The improvement has
been due to extreme actions taken by the Thai fire service and airforce,
both of whom have put a lot of effort into putting out fires and
preventing them from being started.
have taken the issue extremely seriously not least because of large
numbers of tourisats staying away and warnings being issued by foreign
in Chiang Mai Update.
Upton, 1st April 2007.
Pollution and the Dry Season in Chiang Mai
pollution levels have become so severe that areas within four provinces;
Nan, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son have been declared disaster
zones due to the almost zero visibility on the 13th March 2007 and
high numbers of people seeking medical assistance for respiratory
people like to visit Thailand in the dry season for fear of their
holiday being spoiled by rain. However, there is a good reason to
steer clear of the north, particularly Chiang Mai, during the dry
season due to the terrible air quality.
The dry season
is when many hilltribes have traditionally cleared patches of forest
for cultivation, but this is now exaccerbated by burning initiated
by lowland communities and some agricultural buring. Additionally,
many more, similar fires are burning in the surrounding countries,
particularly in Laos and Myanmar as can be seen from the satelitte
photograph in Tony Ball's blog.
The effect is
to create an atmosphere that not only means that views are seriously
impared, indeed in such conditions there is no view at all from
the much-visited temple on Doi Suthep, but an atmosphere which can
have serious effects upon health. For those with respiratory problems
such as asthma it would be wise to completely stay away from Chiang
Mai at this time of year (December to May) considering the dust
particle index shown in the graph below, taken from the Thai government's
Pollution Control Department's website: http://www.pcd.go.th
fact, currently (14th March 2007) the pollution is so severe that
at Huai Thung Thao public park in Mae Rim district joggers were reported
to suffer from respiratory difficulties from the smoke. Even more
alarmingly around 400 children and staff at Wiang Ping Children's
Home have been suffering from eye irritation and coughing for several
days. The map below shows air quality throughout Thailand, also from
the Pollution Department's website: http://www.pcd.go.th
those that find it difficult to read the text, the yellow colour
indicated in the north of Thailand rates as air that is "Unhealthy".
This is the Thai government's own appraisal of the situation.
smog is largely not the result of traffic and industrial pollution
as in Bangkok, but from small fires such as the one pictures below.
Photo by Tony Ball
of these fires are illegally started, although the authorities do
little or nothing to stop them, and in some cases these fires are
actually lit by the authorities themselves; in effect the local
officials are presiding over an air pollution crisis that will undoubtably
result in the premature death of many Chiang Mai citizens through
long-term respiratory illness.
The scale of
the problem has become such that visibility is down to less than
a kilometre in Mae Hong Son where flights in and out of the province
have been delayed due to the risk that this smog poses both in terms
of visibility and particle damage to engines: Flight
Delays due to pollution.
Perhaps it would
be wiser to visit Chiang Mai in the rainy season, a case which is
well-presented here - Rainy
Season vs Hot & Dry Season - or to stay away from
Chiang Mai altogether - if tourist revenue was to significantly
decrease, it is possible that local authorities would cease to shuffle
papers in air-conditioned offices and take some action to improve
attitude taken by the local government is summed up by the photo
below, which pays lip service to protecting the forest whilst a
fire burns close by. The translation is; burn the forest - burn
forest - Burn the nation."
by Tony Ball
Ball has some interesting commentary about the pollution problem
in Chiang Mai in his Birdwatcher's Diary blog: A
Burning Question and Little
Heron takes a Dive.
has pointed out that the pyromaniacs have made an impact in Phuket
Burn or Not to Burn.
Upton, 14th March 2007 - created from information sent to me by a
number of sources.
pages: Fires and Flight Delays
, Air Quality improves but Fires still