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EDITORIAL: Northern haze solutions need local participation

As the season changed and the winds started to blow north in late February or so, the haze problem which had shrouded Bangkok then shifted to the North, with a renewed call for local participation to help tackle it.

Since late February, the northern part of Thailand has felt a grip of haze, which has choked the region with the concentrations of the fine dust less than 2.5 microns in diameter or PM2.5 spiking more than three times of the critical threshold_100 micrograms per cubic meter.

Yesterday and the day before still saw PM 2.5 climbing over 300 mg/ cu m in Chiang Dao district of Chiang Mai!

The haze problem in the North is as critical as that in Bangkok and the government seems to realize this as it has addressed it as part of the national agenda and in the national action plan along with those found in other parts of the country.

Under the plan, which was launched late last year, various measures to tackle haze in different parts of the country have been introduced_from immediate, short-term, and long-term ones.

For the North, besides an attempt to deal with haze in emergency, the government also tries to address its causes including mono-crop farming seen as devastating forest areas with a total burning.

In addition, transboundary haze is also addressed along, suggesting that it is not overlooked or underestimated by the government.

The only problem is the action plan relies too much on centralized thinking and planning that barely catches up with the problem there.

In other words, it pretty much reflects how limits in the knowledge and thinking in tackling haze are when it comes to deal with such a complicated issue like haze.

Haze, as analyzed by the think-tank conservation group monitoring air pollution and environment issues, Chiang Mai Breathe Council, is not just a seasonal disaster. It is a critical environmental problem deeply related to the way economy and way of life are handled.

Haze in the North, for instance, is not generated from the same economic activities in Bangkok. And it causes different impacts that need different approaches to address them.

However, the plan was developed extensively on the set of the knowledge of pollution drawn from Bangkok’s experiences. More critically, it was developed based on centralized authority, which sees the centralized mechanisms and structure introduced, but can not respond well to the situations that are different depending on the areas’ backgrounds. This particularly holds true for haze in the North.

Because of mass burning, plus transboundary haze from neighboring countries, haze in the North in some days during the past few months spiked well beyond the critical threshold that needs an urgent call of the national environment board and even the Prime Minister’s.

But as the haze has shrouded the Northern cities for a month or so, we have not heard any of such calls to address the problem yet.

Bunnaroth Buaklee, the group’s coordinator summed this up as the same old centralization of power that falls far behind the problem.

“They don’t understand the problem and its causes here while relying pretty much on centralized power. That becomes the limitation when dealing with haze in the North. The whole thinking and planning for haze here needs a review,” said Bunnaroth.

For a long time, environmentalists have called for local participation for better environmental management especially in local areas.

Northern haze is proved to be another critical challenge of the idea for the government as the problem becomes intensified without any signs in sight that it will lose the strength any time soon.

So far, over 145,000 rai of forest areas in a number of national parks and forest reserves have been devastated already (as of April 6), and at least five fire fighter personnel and volunteers have lost their lives, including Singthon Navaluksanakul, who ended his life yesterday with a suicide note that complained about unresolved work issues.

There will be two months left before the region enters the rainy season and it will come back to haunt every one again next year unless there is a changing course.

The group may be right to say that Northern haze needs not only just a national agenda, but also an elevated political will to help guide every one through this hazy period of time.