Emergency declared as Thai haze thickens

Smoke haze in northern Thailand has become so bad that a state of emergency has been declared by officials and flights to the popular tourist destination have been cancelled due to poor visibility.

The country’s second city, Chiang Mai, is at the heart of the haze which has been caused by fires in Thailand itself and its neighbours Laos and Myanmar.

The public have been urged by the government to water the land and streets in the hopes that the humidity which will follow will bring rain to put out the fires and cut through the smog.

The government is now considering asking people to bring forward their celebrations of the Thai new year, not due until mid April, as one of the traditions of the festival is to spray each other with water.

Environment officials monitoring the situation say that while the haze tends to be an annual event, this year’s is far beyond the normal density and is the worst for over a decade.

Unseasonably cold weather is cooling the smoke and preventing it from rising out of the region’s valleys.

Chiang Mai is the major tourist hub for northern Thailand, popular with backpackers and those looking for adventure holidays.

Tourism is, however, on hold as travel into the region has been restricted.

People have been advised to stay indoors when possible to avoid the worst effects of the smoke and residents have complained of eye and throat irritation.

South East Asia is plagued by smoke haze as poor farmers in less developed areas continue to practice slash and burn agriculture, deliberately torching vast swathes of forest in order to clear land for their crops and livestock.

Recently states in the region have begun to move beyond the blame game and look at ways in which a co-ordinated response might be able to reduce the problem.

The wealthier states in the region have offered fire-fighting equipment and training as well as pledging to provide some of the funding required to help their neighbours tackle the recurring smog.

Sam Bond

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