Smog, drought, litter bugs and unpopular coal-fired plants take centre stage

national December 28, 2015 01:00

By The Nation

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DROUGHT Thailand suffered a severe drought in 2015, and many stories about arid paddy fields, empty dams and water shortages made the headlines. This was also the third year in a row that Thailand has faced such a drought.



It was a big surprise in the public, and the water shortages continued well beyond May even when the dry season ended. On July 12, the water shortages in the Central Region were so severe that there was not enough water for tap-water production, thus many areas in Pathum Thani, Lop Buri and Saraburi were without tap water.
The water levels in most dams in the North, North Eastern and Central Region remained low throughout the year because of the lack of rainfall, forcing the government in October |to prohibit farmers from using water |to save the water for domestic consumption and to sustain the environment.
The water supply at the beginning of this year was not dramatically lower than that of the previous year; the severe El Nino effect in the Pacific was a major factor for the lack of rainfall during this rainy season.
The Meteorological Department revealed that precipitation in May |was lower than the average by 46 per cent.
 
SMOG IN NORTH AND SOUTH
Severe smog triggered by the illegal burning of forest areas in Sumatra has caused untold damage and health problems in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in October. Prime Minister General |Prayut Chan-o-cha called for an Asean-level effort to tackle the problem. 
The haze caused by the annual burning was the worst since 1999, according to the Pollution Control Department's air pollution index. The amount of particulate matter in the air was up to 10 micrometres in size (PM10), exceeding safe limits in various provinces such as Songkhla, Phuket and Satun. The PM-10 level in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district was measured at 371 mcg per cubic metre on October 22.
In an unprecedented display of public disquiet, 50 Thais turned up at the Indonesian Consulate in Songkhla to officially complain about the haze.
In November, Asean countries agreed on the “Road map to eliminate the problem by 2020”, and promised to work together in both a trans-national and international frame-work to stamp out the burning of forests as much as possible within five years.
Between February and April, the seasonal haze in Northern Thailand also made headlines as PM10 levels – resulting mainly from outdoor burning – peaked in several provinces such as Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Payao.
The smog problems in the North peaked from March 16 to 18. The PM10 measurement in Chiang Rai rose to the year’s highest level of 381 mcg per cubic metres on March 18; Mae Hong Son measured 303 mcg per cubic metre on March 16; Chiang Mai measured 299 mcg per cubic metre on March 17; and Payao measured 265 mcg per cubic metre on March 17. 
 
TOURISM AND GARBAGE
Pollution and garbage were problematic issues in the forests and the sea this year. Since New Year, crowds of tourists have littered and damaged national parks during long holiday periods.
Statistics from the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department show that more than 36,000 kilograms of garbage were collected at Chiang Mai’s Doi Inthanon National Park alone during the New Year period.
The amount of garbage littered in Phu Tub Berk in Phetchabun was so vast that the local authorities had to build a garbage incinerator to cope with 10 tonnes of waste produced by tourists every day.
The pattern of overwhelming numbers of tourists jammed into the national parks during the high season has resulted in huge amounts of garbage being left behind that damages the environment. 
The oceans around Thailand also had their fair share of garbage problems. In November, pictures of underwater garbage covering an area of 400 square metres at Karon Beach in Phuket went viral online.
Uncontrolled and unregulated tourism has damaged the marine ecosystem and threatened the nearby coral reef. In March, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a leading marine biologist, showed evidence of coral reef destruction and environmental degradation in many marine travel spots, due to destructive tourism activities such as sea-walking, feeding fish or anchoring boats on the coral reef.
DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
 
Throughout the year, several agencies proposed development projects nationwide. From the North, a proposal to open gold mines in 12 provinces across the country was made in September, as Primary Industries and Mines Department announced their intention to host public hearings in Phichit province for gold mine concessions.
For more than 10 years, Chatri Gold Mine has faced strong opposition to its mining activities in Phichit. The mining activities were blamed for causing illness and environmental calamities from heavy metal and cyanide leakage. 
For this reason, more than 20,000 signatures were gathered from people in 12 provinces to oppose the new gold mine concession, to end the existing gold-mining operations, scrap the minerals bill and relocate the affected people near gold mines to live in the new location.
Recent blood and urine tests on the people who live near the gold mine conducted by Rangsit University, Central Institute of Forensic Science and the Public Health Ministry in October and November found that many of the blood samples contain high levels of heavy metal.
In the South, several development projects such as coal-fired power plants and deep water seaports also caused concerns for the local people.
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand proposed an 800 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Krabi and a 1,100 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Songkhla’s Thepa in line with the Power Development Plan 2015.
However, strong opposition since July to the Krabi coal-fired power plant project and later to the Thepa coal-fired power plant have highlighted public concerns.
The plan for the Krabi coal-fired power plant was halted by the government on July 23 after a hunger strike in Bangkok by the Save Andaman from Coal group.
Plans are also afoot to build a large seaport in Chumphon and Satun and these projects also face strong opposition.
The government policy to set up waste-to-energy facilities in every city has also met with strong opposition throughout the year from local people, who were worried that the facilities would endanger their health and their environment. Protests have been staged in Prachin Buri, Chon Buri, Samut Prakan, Chachoengsao, Pathum Thani and Nakhon Nayok.
 

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