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Thais May Declare Emergency As Haze Blankets North

14 March 2007 (TODAY)

BANGKOK - Thailand may declare an environmental emergency in tourist
hotspot Chiang Mai and two other northern provinces after thick smog
blanketed the region, the country's Environment Minister said yesterday.

Mr Kasem Snidwong Na Ayuttaya said air quality in three provinces was
double the hazardous level due to widespread forest fires and blazes
started by land-clearing farmers. The elderly and children were urged to
stay indoors, with some 5 million people in eight northern provinces
affected by the haze, the health ministry said.

Air quality is measured in micrograms per cubic metre, with 120 considered
hazardous. Measurements of 240 and 290 micrograms per cubic metre have
been recorded in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun, Mr
Kasem said. "If the situation does not get any better, we will have to
invoke emergency law, which will restrict people's activities," he added.

During an environmental emergency, the authorities would be empowered to
evacuate towns and villages, as well as stop farmers from starting fires.
The Cabinet is due to meet soon to decide what measures to take.

Visibility was down to 1km in the north of Chiang Mai province yesterday,
while residents in Chiang Mai city have been wearing masks, with some
reporting health problems.

Chiang Mai province is one of Thailand's top tourist destinations.
"Absolutely, the haze will affect tourism because it happened so
suddenly," said Mr Kajohnwit Boonsom, vice-president of the Chiang Mai
Tourism Business Association. - AFP

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