Taking the pollution issue to Bangkok

CityNews – On Sunday 18th August, a meeting was held which saw some of the key pollution activists in Chiang Mai come together to present the urgency of our crisis to Director of Research Service Centre and Acting Director of Promoting Sustainable Consumption and Production Programme, of the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), Benjamas Chotthong.

TEI is a non-profit foundation focusing on environmental and sustainable development with the aim to drive sound environmental policies. TEI has been ranked among the world’s top Think Tanks by the University of Pennsylvania for the past seven consecutive years and its board of directors and advisors consist of some of the most powerful leaders in our country including honorary chairman Anand Panyarachun, former Prime Minister, chairman Mechai Viravaidya, former Minister of Industry, Kasem Snidvongs former Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, and numerous heads of industries.

The meeting came about following Citylife Editor-in-Chief Pim Kemasingki’s meeting with Mechai Viravaidya in Bangkok last month which was organised by former bureau head of Associated Press, Asia, Denis Gray, who also attended the meeting which was held to ask for Mechai’s advice as to how to find a meaningful solution to the pollution crisis. Mechai is well known and globally recognised for his remarkable campaign to curb Thailand’s rampant population growth as well as his success in dramatically reducing the number of HIV patients in Thailand. Listen to his fascinating and entertaining TED Talk here. Following the inspiring meeting, Pim wrote about it in Citylife’s August editorial, pledging to keep readers informed of further development.

Earlier this month we heard back from Mechai that he would be sending a representative from TEI up to Chiang Mai and asked us to put together a group of people who were actively working to combat the pollution issue.

The aim of this Chiang Mai meeting was for medical doctors, researchers and activists to present facts to Benjamas, helping her to understand just some of the complexities and challenges of the situation, link her to key local contacts with data and expertise in the field, and impress upon her the seriousness and urgency of the matter. An overview of the situation was given by Dr. Mark Simmerman who earlier this year gave a talk about the issue at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, Bangkok and each participant took the opportunity to talk about their concerns, the information they had gathered, and their ideas for solutions.

Benjamas ended the meeting by thanking all participants and promising to take the issue to the board of TEI.

However, she did point out that we needed to compile a White Paper which clearly stats what the root problems are and solutions needed, including all data aggregated across the various fields of research. She said that we needed to come to a consensus and write a definitive document, which is hard to come by in a field filled with conflicting and often confounding data.

A number of the attendees of Sunday’s meeting told Benjamas that they were about to set up a Chiang Mai Breathe Council which aims to bring all the stakeholders and players together to form this much-needed consensus with one of its aims to write a White Paper. The Chiang Mai Breathe Council was officially announced to the media yesterday. With a White Paper, it is believed, we can then take it to the government and groups such as the TEI, showing consensus amongst all parties concerned, with a clear mission statement, roadmap and goal.

TEI has access to policy makers not just on a national, but regional level, and it is our hope that they will step in and help us to liaise with funds, policies and laws which local activists and authorities are struggling to reach.

The International Sustainable Development Studies Institute kindly sponsored the meeting room and refreshments and lunch were donated by Dr. Tanit and Mrs. Melanie Habananda.