When northern skies became choked with smoke earlier this year, officials blamed pyros torching their fields before a ban came into effect. When the skies grew darker, they impotently sprayed water at the Tha Pae Gate for media photo ops.
Yet Chiang Mai and its environs are still feeling the burn with more than 3,000 likely fires raging as of Monday, according to the Thai space agency.
Satellite images taken at 2am by the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency showed an alarming 3,088 hot spots – all likely fires – raging across the northern region following a weekend of apocalyptic air quality.
It was enough to prompt the prime minister Tuesday to “declare war” on the illegal burning, which he vowed to snuff out within seven days.
During a brief appearance, Prayuth Chan-o-cha offered a solution that would amount to a mammoth undertaking: flying helicopter sorties to extinguish all of the 3,000-plus blazes with water. His military government, he said, would spend whatever was necessary to make it happen.
“I would like to ask all Thai citizens to fight against bad and dangerous behaviors,” Prayuth said in Chiang Mai city, according to Khaosod. He also told local officials to increase surveillance and be on alert for open burning.
Although seasonal burning has long been blamed for northern air pollution, this year has been atrocious, with Chiang Mai city topping the charts with the world’s worst pollution. This past weekend, people thought air pollution monitors had broken when they reported levels of ultrafine particulate pollution at over 500. For reference, Bangkok was a plenty-bad-enough 129 on Tuesday afternoon.
At 11:50am today, the northern city was indexed at 409, the most “hazardous” level possible by the World Air Quality Project.
When the index exceeds 300, the entire population is vulnerable to air pollution and everyone is advised to “avoid all outdoor exertion.”
Meanwhile public frustration over government inaction continues to bubble as evident by the crowd of protesters greeting Prayuth in Chiang Mai.
“Declare a state of emergency in Chiang Mai, please!” one sign read.
“Please help our kids, They are too young. The smog problem affects their development,” another said.
Some Chiang Mai residents took it upon themselves to walk around the city passing out home-made masks to fellow smog sufferers.
Ah, there’s nothing like a severe environmental cataclysm threatening all life to bring people together.