Over the past two weeks, thick smog has smothered many northern provinces, particularly, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. Other affected provinces include Lampang, Payao, Nan, Phrae and Lamphun. This thick haze is being attributed to several factors, i.e., brush fires triggered by unusually hot and dry weather as a result of the El Nino effect, where forest fires can even be spotted in neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Laos; added to this is the annual ‘slash and burn' paddy clearing ritual in farming areas, open garbage incineration in some places, dust particles from roads and construction sites, as well as exhaust emissions. The prevailing thick smog shrouding the upper north is also expected to be exacerbated by the most serious forest fires in Thailand in more than nine years.
The dangerously high level of smog in the northern provinces may pose a health risk to local residents. It is currently being measured at 250 micrograms, beyond the norm at 120 micrograms. As the situation becomes more serious, the Ministry of Public Health is issuing useful advice to the public. Their cautions include avoidance of staying outdoors for long periods of time and abstention from physical exercise in open areas. The elderly, children and those with respiratory problems or allergies are particularly cautioned to strictly heed this advice. Worse, the situation has taken a toll on tourism and service businesses as well as other related industries. Some airlines have canceled flights to the affected provinces for safety reasons. The latest news coverage may even induce tourists to cancel or postpone trips to the northern provinces stricken by the smog for fear of air pollution. Inter-provincial transportation along the highways has already been inhibited.
KASIKORN RESEARCH CENTER (KResearch) expects that if the smog continues into the Songkran festival and spreads to other provinces, tourism will be considerably damaged. On the number of tourists and their spending during March-April, particularly at the important tourist venues such as Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai, it is expected that the smog will cause a drop in the number of the tourists by some 25.0 percent in 2007, compared to the former estimate which indicated that the number of the tourists to those three provinces during March-April 2007 would be around 1.05 million people. As a result, those three provinces will lose the tourism income to service industries of around THB2 billion, dropping 25.0 percent despite the long holiday during March-April of every year, plus the summer break and tourism high season of the Songkran festival.
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