Thailand: Asean help needed on haze
THAILAND has said it will push for Asean-level efforts to rein in the haze that comes from smoke-belching fires in neighbouring countries.
"I have already instructed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to raise the issue with source countries," Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday.
General Prayut made the comments after forest fires in Indonesia pushed the air quality in the country's southern provinces to unhealthy levels this week.
The Pollution Control Department's air pollution index showed that the haze on Tuesday was the worst since 1999. The PM10 level - or the amount of particulate matter equal to or less than 10 micrometres in diameter - had exceeded safe limits in Songkhla, Phuket and Satun provinces.
The thick smoke from Indonesia, aided by the wind, has also blanketed parts of Malaysia and Singapore.
In addition to the haze, fires in eastern Myanmar regularly affect air quality in Thailand's north.
Last week, the haze hit Cebu in the Philippines. And it appears to have spread to Vietnam too - Ho Chi Minh City was shrouded in smoke yesterday, reported Xinhua.
A meteorology expert in Vietnam was quoted by local media as saying that Indonesia's forest fires were part of the reason. "The burning of forests in Indonesia has blanketed many South-east Asian countries in haze, especially areas of low latitude that sit close to Indonesia, like Vietnam's southern localities."
Meanwhile, in Thailand's southern province of Yala, a local hospital reported that as many as 214 patients sought medical help for symptoms that could be related to the haze on Sunday - a jump from 64 on Saturday.
Locals in Phuket said they had already developed eye irritation, skin irritation and headaches when exposed to the haze.
In Trang province, about 400 fishing trawlers stayed ashore because reduced visibility made it impossible for them to head out to the sea.
"This has hurt our livelihood," said Aren Phrakong, who chairs a local fishing group.
Ittirit Kinglek, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said all Asean member countries should have formal discussions on the haze because the problem hurts the region every year.
"As smog shrouds the Andaman provinces - such as Phuket, Satun, and Hat Yai - tourism feels the pinch. (The) smog usually hits during high season too," he said.
Suchart Hirankanokkul, an adviser to the Thai Hotels Association, said the Prayut government should seek answers from the Indonesian Embassy on the emergency measures Jakarta will use to tackle the problem.
Mr Ittirit and Mr Suchart said hotel occupancy in major southern provinces, such as Phuket and Songkhla, had not yet been affected despite the haze. "But if the problem continues, the situation may turn critical," Mr Suchart said.
Hat Yai International Airport said on Tuesday it was closely monitoring the situation and had instructed pilots to comply with guidelines given if visibility is low.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK