BANGKOK (THE NATIONA/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand has said it will push for Asean-level efforts to rein in the haze that comes from smoke-belching fires in neighbouring countries.
"I have already instructed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to raise the issue with source countries," Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday (Oct 6).
Prayut made the comments after forest fires in Indonesia pushed the air quality in the country's southern provinces to unhealthy levels this week.
The Pollution Control Department's air pollution index showed the haze on Tuesday was the worst since 1999. The PM10 level - or the amount of particulate matter equal to or less than 10 micrometres in diameter - had exceeded safe limits in Songkhla, Phuket and Satun provinces.
The thick smoke from Indonesia, aided by the wind, has also blanketed parts of Malaysia and Singapore.
In addition to the haze, fires in eastern Myanmar also regularly affect air quality in Thailand's north.
About 50 Thais had also turned up at the Indonesian Consulate in Songkhla on Tuesday to officially complain about the haze. "This is the first time we've come forward because we are afraid that if we just stay silent, the problem will just get worse and worse," Supawan Chanasongkhram said on behalf of the demonstrators.
She said governments of the relevant countries needed to explore solutions together. Her group also wanted the Indonesian government to tackle the haze problem more seriously.
Supawan said she now had difficulty breathing and had heard that people with underlying illnesses had even graver symptoms.
Meanwhile, in the southern province of Yala, a local hospital reported that as many as 214 patients sought medical help for symptoms that could be related to the haze on Sunday - a jump from 64 on Saturday.
Locals in Phuket, meanwhile, said they had already developed eye irritation, skin irritation, and headaches when exposed to the haze.
In Trang province, about 400 fishing trawlers stayed ashore because reduced visibility made it impossible for them to head out to the sea.
"This has hurt our livelihood. We can't go out fishing for three days already," said Aren Phrakong, who chairs a local fishing group.
Trang Governor Dejrat Simsiri said motorists needed to be careful now given that the haze reduced the visibility on roads.
Satun City municipal mayor Prasit Baesakul said relevant officials were now busy handing out free protective masks in a hope of protecting locals from the impact of the haze.
The province's disaster-prevention-and-mitigation chief Chaowalit Nithornrat also advised people against consuming rainwater, saying it could be contaminated.
-'Hurts region every year'-
Ittirit Kinglek, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said all Asean member countries should have formal discussions on the haze because the problem hurts the region every year.
"As smog shrouds the Andaman provinces, such as Phuket, Satun, and Hat Yai, tourism feels the pinch. (The) smog usually hits during high season too," he said.
Suchart Hirankanokkul, an adviser to the Thai Hotels Association, said the Prayut government should seek answers from the Indonesian embassy on the emergency measures Jakarta will use to tackle the problem.
Both Ittirit and Suchart said hotel occupancy in major southern provinces, such as Phuket and Songkhla, had not yet been affected despite the haze. "But if the problem continues, the situation may turn critical," Suchart said.
Hat Yai International Airport said on Tuesday it was closely monitoring the situation and had instructed pilots to strictly comply with guidelines given if visibility is low.