The annual burning season is under way, and with it the usual rash of “why can’t something be done about it?” letters and articles complaining about the black ash that falls from the sky covering people and property, about the increase in respiratory problems, and about hospitals that try to cope with them.
Every year the problem is the same, as is the effort to control it – namely zero. The slash-and-burn hill farmers, even those in Cambodia and Vietnam, are being blamed once again. Meanwhile the main culprits, the big agro-giants and the unserviced diesel vehicle owners may possibly get a passing slap on the wrist, but little of real practical value is being done either in Bangkok or upcountry,
Leaving aside for a moment the agro-giants, who could do with an Article 44 rein-in, and the polluting vehicles, the reasons for much of the January to February air pollution are easy to understand: too much rice straw/sugar cane/potato haulms/corn stalks, etc after the harvest. What to do with it all? There is too much to plough back in without mulching it – and there are few, if any, mulching machines. Baling the straw is okay if you need the straw and can find a local baler. But burning is easy, costs nothing and the average farmer is unlikely to lose much sleep over the resulting air pollution. His choice is an easy one to make.
Those who live in Bangkok are, for once, seriously affected by the problem so are making a lot of noise about it for a change. The time-honoured solution of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away until this time next year won’t work any better than spraying water in the streets of Bangkok. One can’t help thinking that a fraction of the money spent on one Chinese submarine could provide sufficient mulchers and balers to go a long way towards seriously reducing the January-February smog in the Kingdom – and not just in Bangkok. But then I always was an upcountry dreamer!
Colonel Johnny Thoyts