Tony Pallise's Comments on Thailand

Subject: Tony Pallise's Comments on Thailand
From: Harry Clarke <>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 16:03:39 +1100
As someone who lived in Thailand from 1979-1987, and who still visits there
regularly, I also experience sorrow when I see what this country is doing
to its flora and fauna. In the 1930s and the 1940s vast flocks of birds
flew over Bangkok and other cities. Rainforests on the central plains were
alive with wildlife -- Thailand truely was a natural paradise. 

Many birds in Thailand are now on the edge of extinction because of forest
clearance and persecution by people. Not much lowland forest however is
currently being cleared -- it has mostly gone. Thailand has lost half of
its lowland forest cover in about 30 years. The great national parks of
Thailand such as Khao Yai remain subject to encroachment and increasingly
rare birds (such as the hornbills) are still shot for food by poor
villagers.  The only Thai endemic bird (a tree martin) seems already
extinct.  The magnificent vultures around Nakorn Sawang and other points in
the central plains have likewise disappeared. Bangkok and increasingly
cities like Chiengmai and Korat are becoming polluted, congested sewers. 

What to do? I don't know all the answers but in my own work I have tried to
emphasise the myopic and economically irrational basis for current trends
in Thailand. 

Economic progress will increase the demand for conservation/preservation in
Thailand but for large sections of the Thai rural population this is
occurring much too slowly - and the demand for preservation seems likely to
come too late. Thai Governments pass laws protecting flora and fauna but
these laws are almost entirely unenforced and ignored.  Logging bans are
imposed and so loggers move into Kampuchea and other adjacent states to
wreak havoc there. The beaches on both sides of Bangkok (Pataya and Hua
Hin) are closed to swimming because of sewerage pollution. The coral reefs
in the South of the country have been largely ruined and there are few
(no?) wetlands being preserved despite Thailand being an important site for
migratory waders. 

The current economic crisis in Thailand might well imply an intensification
of recent rural environmental destruction trends. 

If Thailand can survive its current economic difficulties and continue
growing economically as it has in recent decades it should have
western-style (material) living standards in about 25 years. But it will
have few birds, few forests and almost no urban environmental amenities
such as parks and wetlands. It will have congested polluted cities and a
denuded, degraded countryside with high income people who then demand
something much better than this. 

What a tragedy. What a waste. Who will want to live in a such an
environment even if their incomes are high? 

This is progress? As an economist I despair. 
Harry Clarke
Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies)
Faculty of Law and Management

School of Business
Room 433, Donald Whitehead Building
La Trobe University, Bundoora, 3083. Australia.

Phone: 03-9479-1732
Fax: 03-9479-1654

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