Air pollution is a growing concern for many countries around the world, and Thailand is no exception. In recent years, the country’s northern provinces have been facing a major air pollution crisis, with particulate matter and other harmful pollutants reaching hazardous levels. This problem is largely due to the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, which has been a traditional farming method in Thailand for centuries. However, as the country’s population and economy have grown, so too has the scale of this practice, leading to a serious public health issue that must be addressed.
Slash-and-burn agriculture, also known as swidden farming or shifting cultivation, involves clearing land by burning trees and other vegetation. This creates nutrient-rich soil that is suitable for planting crops, and has been used by indigenous peoples in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia for centuries. However, with the expansion of the country’s agricultural sector and the growing demand for food, this practice has become more widespread and has led to deforestation, soil degradation, and, most significantly, air pollution.
According to a report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, “slash-and-burn agriculture is responsible for the majority of forest fires and haze episodes in Thailand and the region.” These fires release large amounts of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants into the air, which can have serious health effects for people living in affected areas. These effects can range from respiratory problems to heart disease and even cancer.
Impact on Public Health
The impact of air pollution on public health in Thailand’s northern provinces has been significant. According to a study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, air pollution was responsible for more than 32,000 premature deaths in Thailand in 2017. The same study found that people living in northern provinces, such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, were particularly at risk, with the highest levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified PM2.5 as a carcinogen, and exposure to high levels of this pollutant has been linked to a range of health problems, including respiratory infections, heart disease, and stroke. In addition to the direct health effects, air pollution can also have economic impacts, such as reduced productivity and increased healthcare costs.
Thailand’s government has taken steps to address the air pollution crisis in the country’s north, including launching a five-year plan to reduce PM2.5 levels by 50% by 2022. The plan includes measures such as promoting clean energy sources, improving public transportation, and enforcing stricter emissions standards for vehicles and factories.
However, critics argue that these measures are not enough to address the root causes of the problem, such as slash-and-burn agriculture. “The government has not yet put forward effective policies to curb deforestation and forest fires,” said Tara Buakamsri, Thailand country director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “They should prioritize measures that can effectively reduce the incidence of slash-and-burn agriculture, such as supporting alternative livelihoods for farmers and strengthening enforcement of forest protection laws.”
Role of Industry
While the government is taking measures to control air pollution in Thailand, the role of industry in this matter cannot be overlooked. In fact, industrial emissions are one of the major contributors to air pollution in the country. According to a report by the Thailand Pollution Control Department, the industrial sector accounted for 46% of PM2.5 emissions in 2020. This highlights the need for industries to take responsibility and implement measures to reduce their emissions.
One of the largest conglomerates in Thailand, the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP Group), issued a statement in response to accusations that it supports slash-and-burn agriculture, stating that it has never had a policy of supporting such practices. The company also stated that it is committed to reducing its environmental impact and has implemented measures to reduce its emissions.
It is essential for other companies to follow suit and take similar measures to reduce their emissions. This could include investing in clean energy sources, implementing sustainable production practices, and reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Role of Individuals
While the government and industry play a significant role in controlling air pollution, individuals can also contribute to reducing their impact on the environment. Small changes in daily routines can have a significant impact in the long run. Here are some steps individuals can take to reduce air pollution:
- Reduce the use of personal vehicles: Using public transportation, walking, or cycling instead of driving alone can help reduce emissions from personal vehicles.
- Use energy-efficient appliances: Energy-efficient appliances can help reduce energy consumption, which in turn reduces emissions from power plants.
- Plant trees: Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can help reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases.
- Practice waste reduction: Reducing waste and properly disposing of it can help reduce emissions from landfills.
- Conserve energy: Conserving energy in daily activities, such as turning off lights and appliances when not in use, can help reduce energy consumption and emissions.
Air pollution in Thailand’s north is a complex issue that requires the cooperation of various stakeholders to address. The government has taken measures to control air pollution, but more needs to be done to effectively reduce emissions. Industries must take responsibility and implement measures to reduce their emissions, while individuals can also contribute by making small changes in their daily routines.
While the situation in Thailand’s north may seem dire, there is hope for a cleaner future. The government’s commitment to renewable energy sources and sustainable production practices, along with the efforts of individuals and industries to reduce their impact on the environment, can lead to a significant reduction in air pollution. It is essential for all stakeholders to work together and take action to ensure a cleaner and healthier future for all.