Masks given out as haze blankets southern Thailand

The authorities in southern Thailand have distributed face masks and urged residents to stay indoors as forest fires in Indonesia pushed air quality to unhealthy levels this week.

The worst-hit provinces yesterday were Phuket, Songkhla and Satun, where state monitoring stations recorded particulate matter in the air beyond the country's acceptable level of 120 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre.

The PM10 level - or the amount of particulate matter equal to or less than 10 micrometres in diameter - was worst in the south-western Satun province. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the 24-hour average reading there at 3pm yesterday was 187 mcg per cubic m. This was followed by Songkhla, with a reading of 156, and Phuket, at 146.

The thick smoke, aided by the wind, has also blanketed parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

Local reports say a crowd of about 20 people gathered at the Indonesian consulate in Songkhla yesterday morning and submitted a letter urging Jakarta to take responsibility and tackle the haze.

"We are not here to condemn anybody, but as we know that the origin of this haze is from Indonesia, we ask the Indonesian government to solve this problem," spokesman Bunchon Vichiensri told reporters. "This problem affects not only us, but the whole region."

The vice-governor of Songkhla, Mr Anuchit Trakulmututa, told The Straits Times he was considering requesting cloud seeding if the situation gets worse. "We have urged people to take care of their own health, delivered face masks and closed our provincial outdoor stadium to prevent people from exercising there and damaging their health," he said. "Fortunately, this is the school break season, so we don't need to close schools."

Meanwhile, Songkhla's Disease Prevention Office 12 director, Dr Suwich Thampaolo, urged residents earlier this week to stay indoors, close all windows and doors, wear face masks and see a doctor if they have breathing difficulties, reported The Nation.

In neighbouring Malaysia, the federal government is planning to pass a law to deal with companies domestically as well those based overseas that cause haze pollution, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

The Utusan Malaysia newspaper quoted him as saying that such a Bill, which is in the works, would give the government power to act beyond Malaysia's borders, similar to a law that has been enacted in Singapore.

This article was first published on October 7, 2015.
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