On 3 April 2019, Mae Fah Luang University held a MFU Voice for Clean Air seminar to bring back a clean air for people in the Upper Northern Provinces who have been suffering a huge volume of PM2.5 pollution for several weeks.
The seminar brought together the representatives from every related sector including President of Mae Fah Luang University, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vanchai Sirichana; Vice President of Mae Fah Luang University, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chayaporn Wattanasiri; Deputy Director of the Pollution Control Department, Mr. Thalearngsak Petchsuwan; the 37th Army District Mengrai the Great Camp representative, Col. Urai Srimuangsuk; Chiang Rai Provincial Public Health Office representative, Dr. Ekachai Kamlue; Vice President of Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Sawetyon Srisamut; and MFU students.
The President of MFU, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vanchai reported that on 31 March 2019, Mae Fah Laung University released an official statement requesting the government to take an action to solve severe air pollution problem. He added that this seminar was held for all sectors to discuss and find both short and long-term solutions to the air pollution situation. On this issue, the university would be a medium for coordinating various specialized sectors to tackle this problem. The short-term solutions, such as protecting people’s health and a ban on burning, have been diligently implemented by these organizations.
In recent years, the air pollution level has been reduced as a result of the strict enforcement of ban on all kinds of open burning in Chiang Rai province. However, this year, the air pollution level has significantly risen. To control the hazardous dust level, the establishment of local and international networks to investigate the rise in air pollution level is important.
To build an international network, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vanchai added that the university will send a letter to the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Chairman, which is Thailand, in order to seriously tackle this issue together. This network is expected to support air pollution control in the future.
According to Mr. Thalearngsak, the amount of domestic burning is also high. Moreover, the occurrence of agricultural burning in the neighboring countries is the result of the actions of private Thai corn farming companies. The restrictions on burning in the neighbouring countries are difficult to enforce due to the administrative complications. Therefore, the long-term solution is promoting diversified farming which will gradually reduce the need for open agricultural burning both inside and outside the country.
Furthermore, Dr. Ekachai Kamlue said that people in the Northern part of Thailand have faced chronic respiratory diseases especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for 40-50 years. However, it is still unclear that air pollution is a causal fator of COPD in Chiang Rai because the number of COPD patients in the past 5 years has remained stable.
Recently, public health officers have worked with over 25,000 village health volunteers, 225 health promoting hospitals, and 18 public hospitals in distributing masks and providing clean areas and healthcare for people in Chiang Rai. Additionally, public health officers are taking care of people in high-risk groups such as the 160,000 older people, 20,000 children under 5 years of age, and pregnant women.
Altogether, this seminar shows the efforts of all sectors including the government and its agencies, along with private cooperation in identifying and implementing both short and long-term solutions. The strong multi-sectoral coordination will contribute in sustainable pollution control and improving air quality in Chiang rai and the nearby regions.