Blanketed in Smoke: Thailand Engulfed in Smog Crisis Amid Wildfires, Choking 37 Provinces

Blanketed in Smoke:  Thailand Engulfed in Smog Crisis Amid Wildfires, Choking 37 Provinces
Credit: Bangkok Post/Panumet Tanraksa

A serious smog crisis has arisen due to widespread wildfires in northern Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai province, resulting in hazardous levels of air pollution for over two consecutive weeks. Satellite monitoring has identified nearly 1,000 hotspots across the region, triggered by unusually high temperatures and drought conditions, exacerbating the uncontrolled fires, primarily from agricultural land burning.

From January 1 to March 29, a total of 3,748 wildfire hotspots covering 27,000 hectares of forest land were recorded, according to the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA). The worst affected provinces are Chiang Mai, where approximately 39,500 hectares have burned, and Mae Hong Son, where 10,500 hectares have burned.

These conditions have resulted in dangerous levels of air pollution throughout the region.  The Pollution Control Department’s Air Pollution Solution Communication Center warns that most northern regions are experiencing dust levels exceeding safe limits, ranging from 42.4 to 161.9 micrograms per cubic meter.

As of this morning, 37 out of 77 provinces in the country are shrouded in thick smog, particularly in the northern areas where residents of Chiang Rai are experiencing the worst levels of PM2.5. However, the situation is slightly better than last week (April 7), when 45 out of 77 provinces were covered by thick smog, especially in the North, with Chiang Mai experiencing the worst levels of PM2.5.

Today, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin conveyed through social media platforms that the government is making maximum efforts to combat the smog and provide assistance to affected residents, but burning activities continue both domestically and in neighboring areas.

Previously, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin declared that tackling air pollution is considered a national emergency. The government has also taken concrete action, with the Cabinet approving a special budget allocation of 272.65 million baht (approximately US$7.45 million) from the fiscal year 2023 budget to address wildfire issues and the effects of smog in the northern region.

In January, the House of Representatives unanimously agreed to discuss seven drafts of the Clean Air Act. A special team has also been formed to prepare these drafts for formal approval.

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