Thailand’s leader traveled to the northern city of Chiang Mai earlier this week to personally inspect areas with extremely poor air quality.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered government agencies to take urgent measures to fight the air pollution, which has reached dangerous levels.
Recently, pollution levels in and around Chiang Mai have risen above those of major world cities known for having poor air quality.
In recent days, tests found that Northern Thailand had very high levels of airborne particulates known as PM2.5. PM2.5 particulates are small enough to be taken into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. They can cause breathing problems and may raise the risks of heart disease and even some cancers.
Recently, the Chiang Mai area has had PM2.5 measurements as high as 480 micrograms. This is more than six times higher than Thailand’s air pollution safety limits. Air quality experts consider any level over 300 "hazardous." By comparison, India’s capital New Delhi recently reached a level of 228, while Beijing had 161.
Much of Chiang Mai’s current pollution is a result of farmers burning crops. Many farmers set fires at this time of year as a way to clear land for planting. Agriculture experts say the air pollution is worse this year because of extremely dry weather.
The dirty air led many people walking or working outside to wear face masks and at least two universities cancelled classes. Mountains surrounding the city trap large levels of pollution in the area, which is popular with foreign travelers.
Prime Minister Prayuth said he had met with local officials to discuss ways to reduce the burning activities within seven days. Measures would cover more than 1,900 places across nine provinces.
“We need to work on a long-term solution with understanding from the public,” Prayuth said. “We need time to change the way we grow crops and farm. Tens of millions of people could be affected.” He said officials had given out nearly two million face masks to people in affected areas.
His visit came after widespread criticism of the government’s reaction to the air pollution. About 40,000 people signed an online appeal calling for the local governor to be replaced. Chiang Mai officials have resisted calls to declare a state of emergency, partly because the move could frighten off visitors.
Earlier this year, Thailand’s capital Bangkok also had a problem with air pollution. That led more than 400 schools to close and Bangkok’s governor to declare a “pollution control” area. That declaration permitted road closings and limits on use of diesel fuel, outdoor burning and some building projects.
Since then, air quality in Bangkok has stayed mostly at moderate levels.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. George Grow was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
hazardous – adj. dangerous
mask – n. covering for the face
online – adj. of or related to the internet or computers