In the last week, a combination of factors has resulted in Northern Thailand experiencing its worse smoke haze in 14 years. Every year in March, slash and burn farming practices in Burma, Laos and the northern Thai provinces sends plumes of smoke into the normally clear air. This year it has been made much worse by climatic conditions. An unusually long and dry cool season has seen low humidity levels with no significant rain since November. The stubble burning and brushfires have been easily spread by the tinderbox conditions. The resultant haze has affected 5 million people in 8 provinces.
I’m living in Chiang Mai at the moment and the last week has been unpleasant with many children and elderly people reporting respiratory problems. The army have been drafted in to help put out some of the forest fires and the Royal Thai Air Force has tried cloud seeding in an attempt to artificially induce rain to wash away the haze. The latter has so far been unsuccessful, but today there are encouraging signs that the situation is improving. The air is much clearer and for the first time in days, it has been possible to see clear blue sky and the outline of Doi Suthep.
The haze happens every year and goes virtually unreported, but the severity this year has made national headlines and cost Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai many thousands of baht in lost tourist revenue.