To smog or not to smog is not the question

View over Doi Phu Kha in Nan - Thailand (29 March 2018)

The photo above is the view from the Wat Phuket in Pua (Nan - Thailand) looking to the mountains of Doi Phu Kha National Park. Photo was taken on 29 March 2018 in the afternoon. Photo below the introduction text is more or less the same view but probably taken in December 2017 (not my photo). You can see an significantly difference in the view due to smog. Since a few weeks the famous Northern Smog Season has started in Nan province and in other parts of North Thailand. This is always happening in the hot & dry season from about February/March to April/May, depending on when it starts to rain again. This year Lampang and Mae Hong Son are hit hard. But not only North Thailand also Bangkok and parts of North-East Thailand are suffering from smog, Khon Kaen is one of the hardest hit provinces in North-East Thailand. To check your local Air Quality have a look at Realtime World Air Quality Index. Now there are many different ways to measure the air quality but the bottom line is that the air at the moment in North Thailand is not very healthy. And the smog has always been blamed on burning left-overs of crops by farmers. And of course especially blamed on hill-tribes and neighbouring countries Laos and Myanmar. And it seems difficult to tackle this problem. But .... is burning really (only) the main fault of the smog? I have some other ideas about the smog (or haze), especially this year. So this is going to be a long story that will continue under the the photo below.

View over Doi Phu Kha in Nan - Thailand (December 2017)

First of all what I am now writing is based on personal experience of more as 15 years living in Thailand and now about 2 years living in Nan province in North Thailand. In Nan province this year the smog seems much worse as last year. That is something that is also said by people in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. So the default blame is .... this year more burning by farmers. Really? From personal experience here in Nan I do not see much fires, almost none I would say.

But this year we had a long and relatively cold winter season without much rain. Could that not contribute to the current smog? And there is much more burning as crops left-overs :
  • What do you think happens with the garbage? In the most villages it is very simple .... dump it in a big hole. When the hole is full the garbage is burned. And that garbage is mostly plastic. 
  • Many people here still cook with handmade fire. Sometimes with just wood but many times with charcoal.
  • And that charcoal is not only used to cook but also produced by .... burning.
  • And while we on the subject of burning. Cremation is the normal thing to do here in Thailand when you die. This is mostly done at the local temple where is an crematorium. Most times this is done with gas, but sometimes still done with wood. However it is done, the air of that burning is almost not filtered.
  • In Asia and also in Thailand electricity is still coming a lot from coal fired power plants. And Thailand needs increasingly more and more electricity. Near Lampang is a huge power plant and just over the border of Nan province is a huge power plant.
  • To produce sugar (and ethanol for gasoline) the sugar-cane factories are burning the sky black.
On the subject of burning by farmers I personally think that a temporarily ban is not really working. They will do the burning before or after the ban. So lets give the farmers an alternative for burning, like plowing of the land. There are some area's where the local government is offering this service free of charge (for what they of course receive money from the national government). But when burning is the only option left then at least learn people to burn properly. When remains of the crop are really dry it burns quickly and without too much smoke. And this is not only in regards to the burning of crops left-overs by farmers but also just by people at home. As there no good garbage collection system many people burn garbage in their garden.

What else as burning could contribute to smog?
  • Old diesel cars & trucks of what are driving around a lot in Thailand. Not only from the poor farmer but also public busses and cars & trucks from the government. And the number of cars has been increasing a lot in the past few years. Not only for personal use (cars) but also for cargo transport (trucks). And smog producing diesel are not only found in cars & trucks but also in trains.
  • Especially in North-East Thailand are huge plots of land used for growing corn & sugar-cane. In the dry season this huge plots of land are mostly left empty and in that way create a huge fields with dust. Then with some wind blowing a lot of dust comes in the air.
  • Since about 6 a 7 years there is a huge increase in airplanes flying domestic in Thailand.
Below you see a screen shot from Real-time World Air Quality Index website. The index goes in 6 steps from Green (Good) to Dark Red (Hazardous). Worst AQ in Thailand is Red (Unhealthy). This means "Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects". A few things you will notice :
  • No data from Myanmar or Laos
  • Red zones are mostly in North Thailand
  • Most stations in Thailand are in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It looks like the rest of Thailand is not really important. 
  • At the top you see a red marker with 152, that is at the border with Laos. About 30km north of this station is Hongsa Power Plant, a lignite fired power plant to generate electricity mostly for Thailand. 



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