S'pore sends 2 helicopters to help fight haze in Thai north

SINGAPORE has deployed two helicopters to help Thailand fight the haze blanketing the north of the country.

The two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) helicopters are currently in Thailand to take part in the multilateral Cope Tiger exercise.

The Chinooks were sent to help douse forest fires from yesterday afternoon, said Thai junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree.

The choking smog is an annual problem. From January to April, farmers in this region - as well as those in Myanmar and Laos - burn the land to clear agricultural waste like rice or corn stubble.

Thousands of people have sought medical help for breathing problems, while flights have had to be diverted from the mountainous region because of low visibility and safety considerations.

Singapore, too, grapples with annual cross-border air pollution caused by land clearing in Indonesian plantations.

In August last year, the Singapore Parliament passed a Bill that would impose fines of up to $2 million on companies found to have caused or contributed to transboundary haze  pollution in the Republic. Shortly after, Indonesia's Parliament agreed to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that was signed in 2002.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in a post on his Facebook account yesterday, said the helicopters would be equipped with a 5,000-litre water bucket from the Singapore Civil Defence Force. "Let's support our SAF men and women who are tasked for this mission - that they will do their job well and keep safe," he wrote.

Singapore's two helicopters will be a welcome addition to the six that the Thai authorities are using now to combat the fires, said Mr Jongklai Worapongsathorn, the director of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Chiang Mai office. "No other countries have lent help so far."

About 2,000 people, including firefighters from southern Thailand, have been deployed to combat the fires, he added.

At least six people have been arrested in Chiang Mai in connection with illegal burning.

Air pollution was still acute at 2pm yesterday.

The PM10 readings in nine provinces, including Chiang Mai, Lampang and Mae Hong Son, went beyond Thailand's acceptable level of 120 micrograms per cubic m.

PM10 refers to particulate matter up to 10 microns in diameter, narrower than the width of a strand of human hair.

The worst-hit province was Chiang Rai, where the 24-hour moving average of PM10 was up to 368 micrograms per cubic m.