Forest fires are a significant contributor to PM2.5, the fine dust particles present in the air that easily enter human lungs and cause severe complications for those with chronic heart and lung issues. This growing environmental and health concern has been a topic of discussion among various stakeholders, including government officials, local farmers, and environmentalists.
On a recent Sunday, Minister Varawut Silpa-archa held a meeting with Chiang Rai Governor Puttipong Sirimat, provincial forest office representatives, disaster prevention and mitigation department chiefs, and local farming community members to address the pressing issue of forest fires and the resulting air pollution. After an insightful discussion, the minister and his team embarked on a helicopter tour to inspect the current conditions of forests that had been ablaze over the past week in Mae Sai, Mae Chan, Muang, and Mae Sa-ruai districts.
Minister Varawut noted that forest fires in Chiang Rai had been successfully extinguished due to rainfall over the previous few days. However, the province remained plagued by a thick layer of smoke emanating from fires in nearby Myanmar and Laos.
In an attempt to mitigate the forest fire crisis, Minister Varawut put forth short-term and long-term solutions. As an immediate response, he encouraged villagers and local authorities to vigilantly patrol high-risk forest areas during hot spot detection hours – between 2 am to 5 am. This timely intervention would enable officials to douse the fires at the earliest, minimizing the environmental impact.
As a long-term strategy, the Minister’s party, Chart Thai Pattana, plans to propose that the government enforce punitive measures on Thai companies operating in neighboring countries, contributing to the ongoing pollution. Additionally, he suggested offering incentives to farmers who refrain from burning farm waste to clear their fields, such as providing larger loans from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.
The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda) recently reported that the Suomi satellite detected a total of 867 hotspots in Thailand, a slight decrease from the previous week due to rainfall in various regions. Among these hotspots, 256 were identified in protected forests, 233 in national forests, and 210 in agricultural areas. The provinces with the most forest fires were Phetchabun, with 98 hotspots, Phrae with 59, and Nan with 57.
The satellite data also revealed an alarming number of hotspots in neighboring countries, including 3,139 in Laos, 888 in Myanmar, 463 in Vietnam, 160 in Cambodia, and 56 in Malaysia. Clearly, the problem of forest fires and the resulting air pollution transcends national borders, necessitating concerted regional efforts to combat this environmental crisis and ensure the health and well-being of the affected population.