Chiang Mai and Northern provinces
suffering from environmental disaster
Air contaminants receding but still at dangerous levels
Military planes shower tons of water over Chiang Mai
The air quality in Chiang Mai has improved slightly in the past three days
but experts say the levels are still at dangerous levels and they will
remain at high levels throughout this week. According to Permanent Secretary
for Public Health Dr. Prat Boonyawongvirot, about 1.5 million people are
experiencing health problems forcing thousands to seek treatment in
hospitals and clinics in the Northern provinces.
Buddhist monk braving the elements in downtown Chiang Mai. (AP Photo/Wichai
Manuals on self-care and caring for families in such polluted environments
have been distributed to residents throughout the north, he said.
Paisal Kuvalairat, spokesman of the Ministry of Natural Resources and
Environment, said some 6,000 hot spots were being tracked by aerial
reconnaissance in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lampoon and Phayao.
On Friday Primer Minister Surayud Chulanont visited Chiang Mai to personally
inspect the military’s efforts to reduce the haze that has affected
residents in three Northern provinces for over two weeks.
On Saturday four specially adapted military planes flew over Chiang Mai
dropping tons of water in an attempt to dissipate some of the smoke brought
on by out of control forest and brush fires.
Authorities said the level of tiny dust particles reached as high as 383
micrograms per cubic meter last Wednesday, the worst since the smoky skies
began to cover the city on March 1. The Pollution Control Department says
less than 50 micrograms per cubic meter is “good,” while up to 100 is
“acceptable” air quality. More than 200 micrograms per cubic meter can
“seriously affect your health” and anything over 300 is considered
“dangerous.” Saturday’s air quality level reading indicated a drop to 176 in
Chiang Mai, while Chiang Rai registered a level of 169 and Mae Hong Son at
240 micrograms per cubic meter.
motorcyclist covers up to avoid breathing in contaminants. (AP Photo/Wichai
The Pollution Control Department’s level readings can be accessed through
their website in English at: http://www.pcd.go.th/indexEng.cfm
The reduction of airborne dust particles may be attributed to public
awareness of this environmental crisis.
The dry weather has fueled forest fires that have mixed with pollution to
cast an eye-stinging, throat-burning haze. People suffering from allergies,
asthma, lung and heart diseases are urged to wear masks and to stay indoors
with the windows closed until the polluted skies diminish. Pregnant women,
senior citizens and children were advised to wear face masks.
According to local health officials based on an initial evaluation, the
number of patients suffering from respiratory diseases had increased by
10-20 per cent in the past week, compared to the same period last year.
Ninety per cent of these patients were out-patients.
The Health Ministry said it has requested the help of 100,000 volunteers to
go door to door in Chiang Mai and distribute 130,000 masks.
Area residents have already been barred from burning their garbage, a common
practice in the city and surrounding areas, said Prachon Panchakul, chief of
the disaster prevention and mitigation center in Chiang Mai province. They
have recommended burying instead of burning dry leaves and garbage.
“Before, we called for people’s cooperation, but now we are strictly
ordering them to stop open-air burning,” he said. Signs posted around Chiang
Mai warned that violators could face fines of up to 2,000 baht.
The Chiang Mai International Airport has also been affected by the pollution
as several airlines were forced to cancel or divert flights this past week
due to poor visibility.
A leading think tank in Bangkok, Kasikorn Research Centre, reported that the
polluted environment in Chiang Mai is having a direct impact both on public
health and local economic activities, particularly tourism and related
Their report projected a reduction in the amount of currency in circulation
in tourism and related services in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son
in March and April by about Bt2 billion (about US$65.5 million) or 25 per
cent of the total.
It said the smaller number of tourists would lead to a decline in spending
in March and April during which there are long holidays and festivals such
as Songkran or the Thai New Year.
In neighboring Nan Province, Dr. Pisit Sriprasert at Nan’s provincial
hospital said about 160 patients a day is seeking medical help.
Nan forest fire control Chief Muangman Kerdnana said the seasonal fires were
expected to be critical due to severe drought conditions. His firefighters
are prepared to work around the clock, but are short of necessary equipment
for the numbers of workers needed.
Meanwhile firefighting airplanes and attempts to induce rain in Chiang Mai
by cloud-seeding have so far failed to extinguish many of the fires in the
Despite the little success in clearing the smoke, the royal rain-making
operations center will continue operations with two additional planes
supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. A special
technique will be applied as well. In addition to chemicals, 500 liters of
water will be sprayed during each flight to increase airborne moisture. The
rain-making operations are expected to result in success next week when the
moisture in the air is higher.
The Thai government has warned that the haze could persist until April and
has instructed officials to monitor the situation closely until at least the
month of June, said government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarb.
Governor gets tough in
smoky Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son Governor Direk Konkreep ordered the supervisor of the Land
Reservation Office removed from his post after he apparently allowed forest
burning in the city.
child needing oxygen to breath in Mae Hong Son Hospital.
At a press conference at the governor’s residence, the Governor signed an
order to remove Isara Anurakpongsathon, the chief of the Provincial Land
Development Office. Subsequently the Provincial Land Development office will
submit the order to Isara’s superiors to have him removed out of Mae Hong
Son provincial area.
The dense smoke covering the city and surrounding areas are the product of
indiscriminate setting of forest fires and brush clearing.
Residents of Mae Hong Song have been seeking treatment at the local hospital
with some children and elderly needing oxygen to relieve breathing.
The Governor said the smoke from the forest fires has increased to such a
degree that the two airlines that serve the city have faced delays due to
The fires have also raged out of control causing the destruction of three
homes and a loss of 1 million baht to the home owners.
Despite the threat of fines and arrest the forest fires continue in the
region and will no doubt negatively affect the health conditions and tourism
outlook for Mae Hong Song.
A mother comforting her sick
Indiscriminate burning harming
Chiang Rai declared a disaster zone
The Chiang Rai province was declared a disaster zone as
embattled provincial and other agencies confront raging brush and forest
fires throughout the region.
Traditionally, before the rains and at the end of the hot or dry season,
local farmers in the mountains burn off the preceding season’s accumulation
of vegetation to provide nutrients for the soil.
This year the region has been especially dry and the fires have spread out
Together with burn-off fires moving east and south from neighboring
Myanmar’s Shan State, Chiang Rai residents are suffering from choking smoke,
clogged with dust and micro-particles of partially-burned wood, leaves and
other vegetation fed by the fires.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has
recruited personnel to attempt to extinguish the blazes and special clinics
may be set up on location to care for persons affected by the smoke and
The local authorities, including officials of the Public Health Ministry,
the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, have issued warnings prohibiting
local villagers from attempting to clear weeds and undergrowth by setting
them on fire.
Hopes for artificial rain by cloud seeding have all but diminished as the
lack of humidity in the air has prevented any much needed dousing over the
entire north. (TNA and CMM Reporters.)
Wife hired men to kill her American husband, murder suspect tells police
The two murder suspects
presented before the local media.
Two Thai men in Chiang Mai have been arrested for the
killing last year of a U.S. expatriate businessman living in Hang Dong. One
of the suspects claimed he was hired by the victim’s wife, police said.
The body of John LaChapelle, 43, was found shot to death on Sep. 29, 2006 in
the Hang Dong district of Chiang Mai province. After a lengthy
investigation, Suphap Nokham, 48, and Suchin Chusaengroj, 28, were arrested
for the killing, said police Lt. Col. Suvit Panyo. Both have been charged
with premeditated murder, which carries a maximum penalty of death.
The police said that Suchin confessed that he was hired to arrange the
murder by the victim’s Lao-French-American wife, believed to be living in
the U.S. and that he hired Suphap as the gunman. LaChapelle ran an
import-export company in Hang Dong, Suvit said.
At the time of his death, LaChapelle’s was being sued for fraud by a
business partner who claimed he had cheated him out of a large amount of
Police have asked the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to investigate the whereabouts
of LaChapelle’s wife and if there are sufficient grounds to believe that she
was involved in the murder, Suvit added. (AP and CMM Reporters.)
Anything to declare?
Only 2 elephants, officer
It’s usually drugs and human trafficking the Thai border
authorities have to deal with day to day. This time they were in for a
surprise when they spotted two elephants being smuggled across from Myanmar
on a rickety boat.
smuggled elephants will be cared for by the Forestry Department.
Five men were arrested after being caught red-handed with their large load
and face long prison terms in found guilty.
The men and beasts, a 1-year-old calf and a female adult, entered Thailand
by boat after a trip across the Salween River from Myanmar, said Preecha
Chalermpichai, the head forest ranger in the border district of Mae Sariang
in Mae Hong Song Province, where the group disembarked.
The suspects, identified as three Thais and two men from Myanmar, face up to
15 years in prison on charges of elephant trafficking.
The seized elephants were taken to a protected forest area in Mae Sariang,
where they will remain in the custody of the forest department pending the
trial of the suspected traffickers, Preecha said.
Animal rights groups have long said that many elephants used at Thailand’s
circuses and at camps that provide elephant rides to tourists have been
smuggled in from Myanmar. (AP and CMM Staff.)
US may place Thailand
on special piracy watch list
The US government may place Thailand on its special watch
list next month, claiming rampant piracy of intellectual property.
Puangrat Assawapisit, Director-General of the Intellectual Property
Department, revealed that five private-sector groups including music and
movies, clothes, pharmaceuticals, cable television and books in the US have
complained that Thailand failed to control piracy of intellectual property.
Rather than limiting or containing existing piracy, the groups concluded
that the practice appeared to be growing and is becoming rampant.
“There is a mounting concern that Thailand might be put on a US special
watch list instead of the watch list which it is placed at present,” Mrs.
Puangrat said, adding that her department would coordinate with agencies
concerned this month to accelerate a response to the US that Thailand has
not been indifferent in coping with intellectual property piracy.
“At present, many groups of Thai producers are worried that the US will
place Thailand in its special watch list instead of a watch list for its
failure to address the intellectual property piracy.” stated Mrs. Puangrat.
“Now, no one can tell that whether the US will put Thailand on its special
watch list. But if Thailand is placed on the list, many Thai export products
shipped to the US will be hard hit.” she added.
Earlier this year, Mrs. Puangrat said, the department had submitted a
written clarification to the US Embassy in Bangkok contesting what American
authorities call Thailand’s failure to cope efficiently with intellectual
property piracy. (TNA) and CMM Staff.