On 17th May 2555, the following letter of complaint was sent out to the governors of these nine provinces – Maehongson, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Prae, Nan, Lamphun, Chiang Rai, Tak, Phayao – and the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

To whom it may concern,
Subject: The Smoke issue/problem of burning
Date: 17th May 2555

I sent you a letter, dated 1st March 2012, regarding the air pollution resulting from the unnecessary burning that we see on a daily basis in Thailand presently. My letter was a complaint, directed at the Thai government and provincial governors for not tackling this issue with the attention and urgency that it requires. My letter was written on behalf of all those affected by this disastrous situation.

Since writing to you a campaign has begun and I would like to now draw your attention to the significant number of people that are also asking for a change in the attitudes and behaviours of those that burn unnecessarily and are contributing to the disastrous situation that is still ongoing in Thailand. If you visit www.breathecampaign.net you will see that there is considerable support for the petition in less than 2 months that requests that the Prime minster, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the appointed governors of all provinces of Thailand, put an end to the deliberate burning of forest land, the burning associated with farming and/or land clearing and the burning of waste. A policy must be put in place, and strictly enforced, to stop burning in public and private places, to change personal and community attitudes and behaviour with immediate effect.

We would like to know what strategy has been devised to tackle this issue. Please understand that we do not accept seeding rain clouds, issuing face masks or the recent somewhat patronizing campaign telling people to ‘STOP BURNING’ as a solution to this problem. As with any problem, we believe that prevention is far superior to any ‘reactive’ attempt to reduce the impact of an already devastating issue.

We expect sustainable, preventative measures to be put in place with immediate effect. Since the campaign has begun we have received numerous suggestions that you may also like to consider (some of which we have enclosed along with this letter).

Please write to us at info@breathecampaign.net with your proposed plan of action to put an end to the burning of forest land, to provide and support farmers with alternatives to burning and to educate and change the attitudes and behaviours of all those that burn unnecessarily and with concern for others around them.

Affected citizens representative

A list of suggestions were also enclosed

Suggested solutions to tackle the unnecessary burning in the North of Thailand

Summary of suggestions made by supporters of the Breathe Campaign 2012

Household burning

  • Education on the dangers of burning (reference the number of smoke related deaths/casualties in Thailand over the last few years)
    • TV and billboard campaigns to reach all corners of Thailand
  • Education on alternatives to burning (simply and clearly explain the dangers to the human of burning organic and in-organic waste)
    • Targeting key figures in communities such as monks, police, military, village headman and encourage them to pass on this knowledge
  • Respected and well known Thai celebrates getting involved and talking out to the nation about the dangers of burning
  • National school curriculum to incorporate dangers of burning and alternative methods of disposal/recycling
  • Schools to actively address the issue by visiting and assisting villagers that burn and offering alternative and support
  • Incentivize composting
    • Those that compost should be able to sell any output easily
  • Community compost bins provided
  • Organic material collection services
  • In-organic material collection services
  • Strict bans on burning at refuse sites (otherwise there really is little point in all this)
  • Enforced bans on burning
  • Centrally run policing to stop unnecessary burning of household waste in villages across the Thailand (there is a need to override the local police forces that turn a blind eye to excessive burning

Burning associated with farming

  • Support farmers to change farming practice
    • Educate using video documentaries of farmers that have succeeded in non-burning agriculture
    • Financially support the change initially until output exceeds expenditure
  • Adjust crop value to encourage farming of crops that ultimately reduces the need for burning
  • Seek out those that are illegally burning forest land for cash crops
    • Incentivize local villagers for assistance (some are already searching out the criminals that burn large areas of forest land and reporting back to authorities with photos etc.)
    • Use local knowledge for assistance
  • Educate hill tribes that there is an alternative to slash and burn agriculture (support practically and financially to change behaviour)
    • Basic cyclic and sustainable farming examples and techniques
    • Financially incentivize Hill tribes to farm alternative crops that do not respond well to ash soils
    • Commission hill tribes to protect the forest land near to where they habituate
  • Imprisonment/heavy fines to be issued as scare tactics on those that burn large areas of forest land. This should be in place after a certain period of time and only following sufficient support and education has been provided for those that are forced to farm in the national park forest land
  • Strictly enforced fines should be in place for all farmers that burn unnecessarily
  • Fine wealthy farmers that have the ability to pay for perhaps a more labour intensive approach that eliminates the need for burning
  • Bring discipline and cooperation to the government sector
  • Orders & sanctions should first be given to government officials, military and key respected figures in communities. There should be strict and enforced laws in place that target these key figures to end all burning in publically visible locations.
    • Some examples should be singled out for punishment for allowing burning this season on government land

Forest land

  • Strictly enforce heavy fines for starting forest fires for personal gain
    • Special task forces sent out to capture individuals that deliberately start forest fires
  • Greater awareness among the public of the reasons for initiating forest fires
    • If the public see that it is for financial gain at the expense of clean air and ultimately their health they may wish to ‘demand’ that the government acts accordingly
  • Incentive villages where no forest fires breakout during the dry season
    • Village headmen could be awarded a financial prize if no fires are seen around his village during the dry season. The financial award could then be distributed to the villagers or used to everyone’s benefit
  • Provide phone numbers for citizens to call when fires are spotted and fund local fire teams to respond immediately to any calls received
  • Incentivize people to report offenders to the police
  • Penalize authorities/local police/head villagemen if fires break out in their jurisdiction (or incentivize if fire’s don’t break out)
  • Illegalize Hed top and Hed hnang mushrooms
  • Ban on Het Top sales this year to bring the burners to heel (there will be a strong resistance to this by those that are responsible for the deliberate burning) – the ban should be used as a threat to have all collectors register with the Forestry Department sand then a fair arrangement can be negotiated
  • Establish a working relationship with those that deliberately burn for mushroom harvesting and assign them to protect the forest from fire, perhaps with grazing rights, in return for the right to collect and sell Het Top
  • Volunteers (along with government officials released from their office duties) to be sent to the mountains to camp with those responsible for the burning and help prepare farmland for cash crops, like corn, teaching methods of sustainable farming without the use of fire
  • Reduce the market value of Hed top and Hed hnang mushrooms
  • Introduce wild animals or cattle into the forests to encourage grazing
  • Enforce laws on illegal logging
  • Enforce laws of illegal slash and burn agriculture in national park land
  • Increase awareness of the stark and worrying fact that Thailand’s beautiful forest land will no longer exist if this irresponsible agriculture continues

Even though the recent rains have cleared the air, citizens of the North of Thailand are still subject to the smoke pollution from unnecessary burning in the region. The pressure on the Thai authorities must continue throughout this year to ensure we see a reasonable strategy in place before the anticipated burning of 2556.

Please continue to support us at www.breathecampaign.net/th

Breathe Campaign