Thailand Sustainability Issues

The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Thailand:

  1. Poverty

With economic growth also came the reduction of the poverty rate, from 67 percent in 1986 to 7.2 percent in 2015. Still, approximately 7.1 million people are living in poverty, and 80 percent of these people are living in rural areas. 

Moreover, an additional 6.7 million were living within 20 percent above the national poverty line and remained vulnerable to falling back into poverty in Thailand. With a massive population of more than 68 million as of 2017, poverty in Thailand affects many individuals. Fortunately, with awareness and assistance, there are opportunities for the nation’s recovery to eliminate poverty and help boost prosperity for all citizens.


  1. Water Resources

Located in Southeast Asia, Thailand has a population of just over 69 million. While population has increased over the years, water quality in Thailand has declined, yielding health risks if water is not purified before consumption. There are approximately 43 million Thai people drinking contaminated water, allowing diseases like diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery to enter their system. This water is contaminated primarily by pollutants disposed into rivers and streams. The main source of water pollution is from the agricultural sector. In 2016, 39 million cubic meters of wastewater was dumped per day into various river basins. Industrial sectors were the second highest distributor of polluted water at 17.8 million cubic meters per day. Lastly, residential areas contributed 9.6 million cubic meters of polluted water per day. A total of 3.5 billion cubic meters of wastewater was released into Thailand’s rivers in 2016. 

Thailand possesses abundant water resources, however the volume of renewable internal freshwater resources per capita has reduced from about 7,700 m3 per capita in 1962 to about 3,300 m3 in 2014, closely related to growth in population. This represents increased water scarcity contributing to prolonged dry seasons in Thailand. One major factor in this change has been the development of irrigation schemes, which has been essential to the development of Thailand’s domestic and export agricultural industry to provide livelihood opportunities for Thai citizens. However, rainfall storage in Thailand averages only 30% of total rainfall volume, with shortages often occurring at the time when agricultural demand is highest. This has become a critical issue that has worsened over time. This in turn has been a major factor in the decline in quality and quantity of water resources in aquifers and watersheds. For example, wetlands located in peri-urban areas in Thailand have become increasingly degraded through drivers such as their conversion to rice paddies, urban and industrial development, and pollution from industrial run off and pesticides.


  1. Plastic Pollution

In Thailand, more than 300 endangered marine animals die from consuming plastic waste and from being caught by fishing gear per year. While 60% of marine animals, specifically dolphins and whales, die from eating plastic waste, 70% of sea turtles die from plastic waste that binds their neck and body. On the 17th April 2019, the cabinet approved the roadmap on Plastic Waste Management 2018-2030 aiming to reduce and stop the use of plastic and replace it with environmentally friendly materials. 

Thailand is the world’s 6th biggest contributor of ocean waste, while China is the largest. Thailand generates 1.03 million tons of plastic waste per year, with over 3% of that finding its way into the ocean. Of the country’s total waste, plastic accounts for 12%, higher than China’s at 11%. A survey by the government in 2017 found that on average Thais each use eight plastic bags per day, which equates to around 198 billion per year. Since 2015, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has appealed to Thais to cut down on plastic bag use and to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Waste management is also part of his 20-year national strategy.


  1. HIV and AIDS

Of Thailand’s population of nearly 70 million, an estimated 480,000 people were living with HIV and 18,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2018. Thailand’s HIV epidemic is concentrated among certain key populations. Those most affected are men who have sex with men, who account for around 40% of new infections each year, sex workers and their clients, around 10% of new infections, transgender people and people who inject drugs (sometimes referred to as PWID), around 10% of new infections each. Migrants and prisoners are also more vulnerable to HIV than others in the country. Young people from key populations are particularly at risk of acquiring HIV. In 2018, around half of new HIV infections in Thailand occurred among people aged 15-24. Unprotected sex is estimated to account for 90% of all new HIV infections. Unsafe injecting drug use is the second biggest transmission route.  In Thailand, HIV prevalence is higher among male sex workers than female. In 2018, of the estimated 145,000 sex workers in the country, HIV prevalence was approximately 4% among male sex workers and 1.7% among female sex workers . Within the first few years of Thailand’s epidemic, HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs rose from 0 to 40%. By 2011, prevalence had halved to 22%. Prevalence has remained at a similar level since then, standing at 20.5% in 2014, the most recent data available 


  1. Education Crisis

Many rural poor people cannot afford education more than the six years of compulsory schooling. The enrollment rate for “tertiary education” was reported as 18 percent in rural areas compared to 39.5 percent in urban areas. Due to lack of education, many rural poor people are under-qualified for higher paying positions, perpetuating a vicious cycle. 

Despite Thailand’s universal access to education and 96.7 percent literacy rate, Thai students scored below the global average on PISA tests in 2014, ranking 35th out of 40 countries. Recent reports from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) also indicate that the country has fallen behind. In 2015, the government spent 19.35 percent of its yearly budget on education, a greater portion than was spent on anything else. However, Thailand has yet to see cumulative improvements in its schools.The lack of success might be the result of poorly divided funds. In 2014, the National Council for Peace and Order resolved to reconstruct the education system but has taken no discernible actions yet.