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MAIL OPINION  By Shana Kongmun


What can be done about the smoke?

Recently I had a conversation with a well-known forestry expert, an English man who has been living and working in Thailand for many years and is a leader in the field of forest regeneration. He has spoken to many groups, including several different Rotary Clubs and the Expats. His success stories of forest regeneration are heartening, the return of plants and trees bringing about the return of forest animals, from birds to small mammals and to larger animals as the forest regenerates.
As a forest expert he told me he often gets asked about the burning and destruction of the forests in Chiang Mai and the resultant smoke from which we all suffer. Contrary to the opinions some people hold, he said, most of the smoke does not actually come from Chiang Mai. Certainly, burning here is a major problem and needs to be stopped by the authorities but, he noted, we accumulate the smoke of all our neighbors. He noted that Myanmar in recent years has become a big problem, he noted that the relaxation of the Army rule has seen an increase in burning. Any look at a fire map will show we are surrounded by fires, they appear to be everywhere. It’s rather disheartening to be honest, making everyone ask what can be done to save our health and our forests?
Someone said to me the other day that laws need to be implemented to ban this behavior. The fact is, there are laws on burning. In fact there is currently a total ban on burning with rather large fines and imprisonment the result of being caught burning forests and fields. The laws are there, and just like the traffic issue in Thailand, the problem remains enforcement. There is a distinct lack of political will, from the top on down to the village level, to actually stop and prosecute people who set fires. It is a major dilemma in a country where confrontation on a personal level is avoided, where it is considered better to solve problems by mediation and compromise. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a compromise that can be had in this situation, the burning needs to stop, not just in Chiang Mai but everywhere in Thailand and across South East Asia. The solution is strict enforcement and punishment of offenders. Until not only Thai authorities from the puyaiban on up realize this, until our neighboring countries realize this, we continue to choke on an annual basis.
For those interested in viewing the real time fire map of South East Asia,

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What can be done about the smoke?