What did come as great irony this week was Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha standing in front of the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday – literally while all Southern Thailand provinces from Phuket and Surat Thani to the Malaysian border were choking on forest fire haze – saying, “Asean stands ready to advance partnership with the global community on climate action to ensure sustainability for present and future generations.”
That’s a tough sell when the annual Indonesian inferno – entirely man-made to burn off plantations – is an event so great that it is easier to track its effects from space.
Worse, literally while PM Prayut was uttering those words, the UN’s own Unicef arm announced that 10 million children were at risk from the smoke caused by the fires.
Making it even harder to swallow is that Asean was founded on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of any member state. If Asean are going to stand by that while Rohingya are being hunted to the Bangladesh border, it is very unlikely they are going to take any action over Indonesia’s annual bonfire gone bad.
The response from the local health office in Phuket was quick and appropriate, but what we can do better is try to give people a little more warning. Regional alerts for Songkhla and Hat Yai were being issued up to a week before the haze hit Phuket, and a haze warning for Satun came a couple of days before it arrived on the island.
Those who were watching its progress northward would have been little surprised, but most people in Phuket are either unfamiliar with annual weather patterns or tourists who wouldn’t have had a clue until they woke up last Sunday morning.
Weather warnings for storms are issued at the drop of a hat, and we are most certainly not suggesting anything as alarming, but an advisory that haze might arrive sooner than expected – if it arrives at all – would benefit everyone.