SONGKHLA — Hundreds have sought medical help in the south of Thailand as smoke and haze from Indonesia’s slash-and-burn farming spread has spread to blanket the region.
Residents in Songkhla province converged on an Indonesian consulate there to call on Jakarta to control the fires creating the smoke which has drifted throughout the region as air pollution levels spiked today to levels far exceeding safety standards.
“I have a running nose and have a cold for days. My mom took me to the doctor and I need to take medicine,” said Natat Thibhadi, a 9-year-old boy who joined the rally with his mother. “I also need to stay inside my house and cannot go play outside as usual, as the weather is not clean.”
Residents rally outside the Indoniesian consulate in Songkhla province today.
The smoke, which has choked Singapore and Malaysia for weeks, first reached Thailand on Saturday.
Satun City was identified as having the worst air pollution in the nation, followed by Hat Yai in Songkhla province and Phuket Town, according to the Pollution Control Department.
In Satun, officials warned people to wear masks and be careful driving, as visibility was reduced to less than 200 meters. Masks were also distributed in the southern provinces of Krabi, Trang and Pattani.
In Yala province, 214 patients reportedly visited hospitals due to respiratory conditions blamed on the pollution.
Krabi Mayor Keeratisak Phukaoluan said his municipality would send a letter asking Indonesia to take action, as the fires have become an annual phenomenon plaguing the region.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Indonesia to act, saying it was affecting his country’s air quality and economy.
"Only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies involved in these actions.” Razak told the Malaysian National News Agency.
El Niño weather conditions have been blamed for dry weather which have made this year especially bad.
The planet’s insatiable demand for cheap palm oil is routinely cited as the leading cause of the illegal forest burning. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in an interview with BBC the haze problem cannot be solved easily.
He insisted Indonesia has already “gone to great lengths” to take on the outbreak including building water reserves in the forests and enforcing laws against illegal burning.
"You will see results soon and in three years we will have solved this," he said.
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