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Thailand's Environmental Crisis

The environmental crisis has become one of today's major concerns and issues in Thailand. Conservationists argue that we should try and avoid unnecessary harm to the environment before it is too late. Conservationists argue that if we do nothing about environmental crisis, we will be doomed. We can still do something to circumvent the harm we're doing and hopefully lead a better life in the future. They say that most of the times for authorities and individuals to react, the stage of crisis must be reached. Most probably if we would have reacted before to these situations, the damage done would have been much less.


Thailand’s acidic soil and water resources in addition to industrial development have either eliminated or severely reduced the amount of habitat available for animals. More than one hundred animal species have disappeared in only 40 years! A survey was conducted by Teena Amrit Gill, they spend a good deal of time atop Area Mountains (Chiang Mai) to perform survey here (Gill, p. 1-2). Of a combined total of about 30 days atop these forested hilltops, Teena Amrit Gill has seen exactly two chipmunks, one rodent suspiciously resembling a small rabbit, and several birds

Air pollution is the most visible environmental problem here but water pollution is the most critical. Thailand has various water sources, half of which are dams or main rivers. All the major rivers, which are the major source of drinking water, are of second rate or poorer quality (Stubbs & Dering, p. 68-72). They are polluted by industrial, household, and agricultural activities, including livestock rising. Recently, resort areas, which are usually located at the upstream areas of rivers, have aggravated this situation. There are grave concerns about the contamination of tap water with toxic heavy metals. The tributaries near rapidly growing population centers are so contaminated that their water cannot even be used for industrial purposes! The water quality of the River, the water supply source for Thailand, is a major concern. Due to the huge population concentration in this region, the Rivers are heavily polluted there and the fish population disappeared long ago. Several sewage treatment plants were opened in the late 1980’s, which improved this problem, somewhat but there are still problems due to the lack of a separate sewer system overflow of storm water into wastewater. Most Thailandians rely on bottled water because of the lack of sufficient sewage treatment facilities, thus limiting clean tap water. Until recently, most, if not all of Thailand’s sewer system, especially in more rural areas, were of the open sewer type.

Everything runs into these on the way to the land’s waterways and eventually to the sea unaltered because of this lack of good sewage treatment means. The number of fish species off the coast has declined from 141 to only 24 in recent years (Buell, p. 51-58), a direct result of contamination of near shore sediments and also rising levels of heat pollution from power plants and industrial activities. Improper storage, handling, and disposal of industrial chemicals like solvents and dyes have significantly contaminated soil and groundwater. In rural areas, heavy use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides plus uncontrolled runoff from cow and pig farms has caused horrible damage to the soils and aquifers.

The generation of solid wastes in Thailand per capita is among the highest in the world yet the country’s solid waste disposal capacity is limited. The total volume of waste is steadily rising due to population increase and a strengthening economy. This huge mass of solid waste production is swamping the country’s landfill capacity and has created a significant illegal dumping problem (Buell, p. 51-58). A drive along practically any roadway in the country proves this fact. There is trash everywhere from the roadside to the streams and rivers. A walk through a local village is also proof positive that solid waste is disposed of haphazardly and by any convenient means. The unfortunate result of this all too common practice is that hazardous chemical and animal wastes, industrial byproducts, and domestic wastes are freely commingled and unmanaged in both urban and rural areas.

A survey conducted by Jennifer Hile reported that, Thailand’s environmental problems are not as old as the country itself, an observation that is confirmed by a recent work of historical fiction, Thailandian’s has cut down vast swaths of forest to clear land and plant the crops they would need to survive in their new land (Buell, p. 51-58). This practice has continued over the years in various incarnations, but as a rate that is unchecked. In another survey conducted by Teena Amrit Gill the result of survey exposed that the devastation inflicted on Thailand’s hardwood forests by Thailandians who burn down the trees in order to sell charcoal for a living. The Thailandians are not heartless men and women who destroy their environment thoughtlessly. Rather, they are poor people who see no other viable economic alternatives and who claim that their government does not help them to find any.

This same painful dilemma can explain the dynamic that underlies the acts of clear-cutting their rainforest. Thailand has been able to establish its economic dominance of the South East Asian continent by exploiting its varied natural resources, including medicinals, botanicals, nuts, woods, and rubber, that are harvested in the tropical rainforest (Stubbs & Dering, p. 68-72). The harvesting of these natural products are essential to Thailand’s economy, and even though it is obvious that production cannot be sustained at the present rate, it is difficult to do more than talk about the dangers of exploiting natural resources when no other viable economic stimulants have been identified or promoted. 9,000 square miles of Thailand's rainforest were destroyed in 2004 (Khan & Ali, p, 301-314).

Current Concerns and Extent of Damage

The practice of clear-cutting the rainforests has numerous consequences. First, it depletes the nation's and the world's biodiversity; "more than 171 animal species were in immediate danger of extinction in 2009" (Buell, p. 51-58). The decrease in the variety and number of flora and fauna creates disruptions in the food chain, restricts our ability to conduct scientific and medical research, and is a process that is absolutely irreversible. Once extinct, a species cannot be restored to our planet. The bare land, of course, creates other problems. Soil erosion and contamination of the water table are some effects (Stubbs & Dering, p. 68-72) that have direct impacts on humans. This is particularly alarming because Thailand’s burgeoning population has spread farther and farther into previously uninhabited territories, and clean water is not available in many communities (Fischer, p. 234-238). As we all learned in earth science class, an absence of trees negatively impacts nature's ability to recycle water effectively. Trees acts as filters and oxygenators; when they are not present, they cannot perform this vital function. The problems that humans have created then generate more problems. (Stubbs & Dering, p. 68-72) points to the fact that the population incursion into new areas and the lack of trees has forced local authorities to construct hydroelectric dams, which have destroyed entire ecosystems, thereby creating additional environmental problems. The effects are not only local, but ripple into other countries as well. Thailand's rainforests have been called "the lungs of the planet" (Khan & Ali, p, 301-314). What do we do when our lungs are gone?

Health Problems

Climate change is causing huge impacts in human health, there are many physical health problems. Research shows that environmental crisis is causing the ozone layer to decrease which has caused an increase in skin cancer, another big health problem is respiratory illnesses (Buell, p. 51-58). This is because hotter days worsen air pollution by a mixture of smoke and fog, bringing more respiratory illness. Incidences of diseases carried by insects and common animals are increasing. Climate changes also causes mental health problems, many people in Thailand are going through mental illnesses this is caused by loss of family members, properties and jobs due to increased incidence of weather-triggered disasters like bush fires and droughts which are taking a mental toll on Thailand health. Since pollution is one of the main factors in causing global warming, it also comes with health effects. These effects range from being short-term to being long-term. Short-term effects can be as simple as headaches nausea, and allergic reactions such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia can also occur.

Long-term health effects include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys (Buell, p. 51-58). Research has shown that younger children and elderly people are more sensitive to pollution compared to the general public. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly. Young children and elderly people often suffer more from the effects of air pollution.

Government’s Action

One of the key factors that made the Thailand’s environment protection program successful, (Rowlands, p. 91-102) reports is the government's leadership. The president of Thailand took a leading role in spearheading efforts to guide his country's economy away from environmental exploitation and towards ecotourism. If Thailand is to be successful in such a transition, government support, and not merely verbal enthusiasm, would be absolutely necessary. The Council on Environmental Affairs is not particularly hopeful that the current government, will guide such a shift, noting that while government is verbally supportive of environmental reforms, his administration has little to show in terms of concrete accomplishments in this particular area

Thailand does not actually need to look as far away as other countries to resolve its environmental crisis. Some local city governments in Thailand have proposed interesting innovations to restrain worsening environmental conditions. One of these cities, Phuket, has gained international exposure and praise for its creative and thoughtful interventions. Phuket's mayor has been praised enthusiastically for spearheading efforts to "green" his city. On an operational level, this meant redesigning the city in such a way that pedestrians had more access than cars, public transportation was a city priority, and recycling was compulsory. The planners of the Phuket project focused on solutions that were relatively simple and cost-effective to implement in the city of 2.2 million, and it thus makes sense that Phuket’s program could be replicated in other areas of the country (Rowlands, p. 91-102). " Phuket has since served as a model of environmental stewardship to other cities around the world” (Hollander, p. 147-152).

Beach Recovery Program

Similarly, The Beach Recovery Program was created to combat water pollution.

The goal of the Beach Recovery Program was to eliminate contamination of beaches and rebuild the local tourist economy in two phases over a four year period. The first phase includes rerouting the contaminated water in storm water canals from the ocean and into sewage treatment plants. The second phase involves improving the water quality in storm water canals by identifying and eliminating illegal waste drains (Hollander, p. 147-152).

Why Policies are failing

In August, 1967, Association of Southeast Asian Nations is founded in order to protect Southeast Asian Nations from economic, environment, and political problems.

ASEAN made some effort to tackle the problems of its members including Thailand. ASEAN made many efforts to cover the environmental crisis in Thailand. ASEAN nations did recover from the Environmental Crisis, the current conditions would have been better if ASEAN could encounter the crisis more efficiently. Smoke haze is an environmental problem that has affected Thailand during the dry seasons especially in 1991, 1994 and 1997 (Buell, p. 51-58). From an environmental point of view, ASEAN's failure to handle smog from forest at Indonesia proved that it was not successful. The main reason of ASEAN’s failure is its members are not interested in helping because of the "non-intervention" policy and members feared.


Environmental experts generally agree that if Thailand does not restrain its uncontrolled environmental destruction, both the country and the world will suffer devastating consequences. Most experts believe that the damage is irreversible, and it is hard to dispute this claim (Stubbs & Dering, p. 68-72). They also point out that the damage will not be restricted to the physical environment, but will have indelible social impacts, including disease and criminal violence (Fischer, p. 234-238). Economic instability will also result. When a country that has been economically dependent upon its natural resources has completely stripped itself of those resources, without hope of their renewal, what alternatives does it have, and which of these alternatives are viable and can be instituted quickly?

While some damage that has already been done cannot be remedied, environmentalists do believe that Thailand’s environmental demise is not inevitable; they can still avert complete destruction. However, they note that action is needed quickly, and that such "action will need to be bold, multi-faceted, and implemented with the support and direct involvement of many different levels of society, from the individual to the government" (Khan & Ali, p, 301-314).


Thailand and the world recognize that the devastation of the rainforest and the resulting contamination of the country's water supply are of deep and immediate concern and necessitate action. As with so many social problems, though, deciding upon and implementing solutions appears more difficult than continuing on the path of devastation. The reason is that we all live in need of addressing current economic needs, attempting--and often failing--to balance those immediate needs against our own future possibilities and sustainability. To address the problem of environmental destruction in Thailand, the Thailand’s government and its people would have to offer viable economic alternatives to its citizens and its systems that currently profit from environmental destruction.

Thailand recognizes its problems and challenges; it is justifiably resistant to pressures from external governments, including the United States. (Buell, p. 51-58) describes the dynamic as one of resentment: how can the United States, which in its own history clear-cut and wasted natural resources in order to reap economic rewards, tell Thailand it needs to fix its problems? Further, what will other governments, such as the US, do to help Thailand address this massive problem?

Thailand can certainly look outside its borders to other countries for inspiration. One of the most encouraging environmental improvement success stories of recent years is that of Gabon, an African nation that has declared ten percent of its land as protected natural parks (Buell, p. 51-58). Gabon, which also has one of the world's most important rainforests, has completely restricted hunting and logging activities in the 13 national parks and, as a result, has not only enjoyed substantial environmental improvements, but a significant increase in tourism, economic support packages by countries such as the US, who announced $75 million in funds to be directed toward the national parks of Gabon, and increased positive press and financial support from such organizations as National Geographic and the United Nations (Buell, p. 51-58). The increase in tourism has filled the economic void that the destruction of the rainforest had created. Thailand, which already enjoys a steady flow of tourists, particularly in its urban might benefit by adopting Gabon's environmentally sustainable and responsible model, shifting an economy based on environmental exploitation to one based on ecotourism.


The environmental problems that currently plague Thailand are serious and are deserving of immediate attention and intervention. It is not likely, however, that critical pressure from other countries will have any appreciable effect in preventing an escalation of the environmental problems that confront Thailand and have consequences for that country and the rest of the world. It is clear that the reason for continued environmental devastation is neither ignorance nor willful disregard for the environment, but immediate and pressing economic need in a country whose population has outstripped its economic capacities. In order to affect a viable solution to the Thailand’s crisis, realistic proposals must take into consideration these very real economic needs.

The restraint of the environmental crisis in Thailand is not the responsibility of one group alone. Effective intervention strategies must involve partnerships between individual citizens, the country's government, and non-governmental organizations. Outside advisers, such as those who have been involved in turn-around projects in countries like Gabon, might also be useful allies. These partnerships, though, cannot only exist in terms of verbalized commitment, but in terms of actual, concrete actions that will be taken to remediate the problems. Finally, it is imperative that these partnerships be formed quickly and act immediately if there is hope of preventing further devastation of Thailand’s rainforest and water table, which has consequences for the entire world.

In my opinion, and many others, Thailandians needs to stiffen the penalty for this environmental negligence and hold the offenders responsible for the costs of cleaning it up or what is today a beautiful and rugged country will no longer be inhabitable by humans, as many of its other creatures have discovered already. Thailand’s local environmental problems have become a world concern. These problems are so numerous that it is difficult to focus on only two. A population explosion that creates excessive amounts of waste and garbage and puts heavy demands on the environment, strip and coal mining, emissions control, and species elimination and extinction are major concerns. Two of the most serious problems facing Thailand's environment at present, however, are the devastation of the rainforest and water pollution (Fischer, p. 234-238). These problems affect not only Thailandians, but the entire world.

ASEAN has many weaknesses, in order to be more beneficial and effective; it needs to reform its policy and attitude toward further internal matters. Members should be encouraged to advice and help each other. Problems should be confronted and discussed rather than sidestepped. In this way, ASEAN could be more effective as a regional association in Southeast Asia.

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