Thailand using diplomacy to deal with haze as it tightens grip on southern provinces

A woman wearing a face mask as she rides a motorcycle with children through haze in Narathiwat, southern Thailand.
A woman wearing a face mask as she rides a motorcycle with children through haze in Narathiwat, southern Thailand.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand's Foreign Ministry is exploring all possible means, including diplomacy, in its bid to tackle the spread of haze into southern Thailand from agricultural fires in Indonesia.

"We would like to assure people living in Thailand's South and anyone affected by the haze that we are doing our best," Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai said on Wednesday (Oct 7), as haze levels continued to threaten the health of residents and disrupt flights in many southern provinces.

Indonesian Ambassador Lutfi Rauf separately confirmed that he would meet Thai officials at the Foreign Ministry at 11am on Thursday (Oct 8).

Mr Don said his ministry would express concern about the impact of the haze on Thailand during the meeting. He added that he would also seek the cooperation of haze-affected neighbours such as Malaysia in joining discussions with Indonesia.

Flights to the southern provinces of Songkhla, Krabi and Phuket were delayed amid thick haze on Wednesday (Oct 7). Several planes were forced to circle for 20 minutes to an hour before landing as they waited for improved visibility.

Visibility on roads was also significantly reduced, with motorists in Songkhla saying they could see no more than 200m. In Phatthalung province, road visibility was down to less than 500m.

The level of particulate matter up to 10 microns in size, or PM10, also rose beyond the safe limit of 120 micrograms in many parts of the country's south.

Phuket recorded levels of 163 micrograms, while Krabi saw 130 micrograms. Complaints of eye irritation, skin irritation and respiratory problems have risen dramatically across the region in recent days.

Only one-third of children turned up at the Phuket City Municipality's nursery on Wednesday, as parents took precautions against the haze.

"Most children have fallen sick, so the parents have kept them at home," a nursery teacher said.

Elsewhere, Satun Primary Education Office chief Nisit Chaiphak said he had instructed the directors of 161 primary schools in the southern province to temporarily close if the haze worsened.

In Trang province, shops on Pakmeng beach were all shuttered as tourists stayed away.

Local businesses are also complaining about the economic impact of the haze.

"My friends and I reckon we will have to close our shops until the smog eases," said shop owner Wanna Suansri in the haze-blanketed province of Phatthalung. "Even when we open, there's no customers anyway."