Mainland Southeast Asian Nations Unite to Address Burning Season Impact on Public Health, Environment

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(Photo: Luang Prabang TV)

The onset of the annual burning season in Southeast Asia has prompted significant alarm over its detrimental effects on air quality and public health. This customary practice, prevalent in countries like Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar, involves controlled fires for land clearance ahead of agricultural activities.

To address the issue, government officials from areas bordering Laos and Thailand gathered on 27 March in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to strategize collaborative solutions. Representatives from the Lao provinces of Xayabouly and Bokeo, along with counterparts from Cambodia and Myanmar, attended the meeting.

Participants acknowledged the harmful effects of bushland burning and the urgent need to mitigate air pollution, particularly the surge in PM 2.5 levels, which pose significant health risks to the populace.

To combat the crisis, authorities have issued directives aimed at enacting legislation to prevent and suppress forest fires, with a particular focus on curbing traditional burning practices used by farmers. 

Efforts are also underway to disseminate information to the public, raise awareness about the root causes and implications of air pollution, and advocate for community engagement to halt the burning practices for land clearance.

However, the pollution issue is compounded by the hot and dry weather conditions, which increase the likelihood of forest fires and render them more challenging to contain.

Recently, a wildfire erupted in Luang Prabang near the renowned tourist site of Phadaeng Mountain in Ngoi district, resulting in significant destruction. Despite authorities managing to extinguish the fire, the blaze damaged property valued at over LAK  80 million (3,796), including water pipes, sleeping bags, plastic water storage tanks, and toilets, as reported by the Vientiane Times.

Meanwhile, the Thai government seems to be considering banning corn imports from neighboring countries next year to address the surge of PM2.5 fine dust pollution in the North. The ban aims to curb burning practices used by farmers to clear agricultural waste, according to Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

In northern Thailand, an estimated 1 million rai of land across 10 provinces was expected to succumb to wildfires between February 19-25, attributed to local burning practices.

Proposals to enhance monitoring and establish fire patrols have been put forth to swiftly detect and extinguish fires, preventing further environmental degradation.

As the annual burning season persists, concerted efforts are underway to mitigate its adverse effects, safeguarding both environmental sustainability and public health across Southeast Asia.