The Thai Environmental Journalists Society held a forum and exhibition on current environmental issues and future challenges yesterday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. At the forum, many speakers flagged up the environmental issues the country faces.
Surachai Throngngam, secretary-general of the EnLawThai Foundation, pointed out that many development plans still don’t include proper public participation and will have severe adverse impacts on the environment and natural resources. He said this trend would continue in the future due to the military regime’s use of special powers.
“The pushing forward of development projects has always been a big problem with other governments, and under this military-led one, this situation has worsened due to the use of special powers to facilitate projects such as power plants, large seaports or special economic zones,” Surachai said.
He went on to say that the government did not just use absolute power to back large projects, but it was also applying this power to limit people’s rights to protect themselves. He said these problems will continue as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will remain in power until a new government is formed.
“I urge everybody to keep an eye on the organic laws being drafted under the new charter, as many community rights will depend on these laws and they will indicate how much power the people have to manage natural resources and the environment,” he said.
Lertsak Khamkongsak, coordinator for Eco-Culture Study Group, also pointed out that there were many bills currently being drafted that had to be monitored.
For instance, he said, the Mineral Bill would give investors greater freedom to take advantage of the country’s rich natural resources and have a further impact on local communities. He pointed out that this was already happening thanks to the gold mines in Phichit and Loei provinces and the lead mine in Kanchanburi.
The ongoing conflicts between the authorities and forest dwellers were also mentioned in the discussion. Panudej Kerdmali, secretary-general of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, said the government’s forest reclamation mission is only worsening conflicts and not really achieving the goal of forest preservation.
“Up to 31.6 per cent of the country is forested, which is not bad, but we should focus more on preserving these areas and letting people live in the forests sustainably,” Panudej said.
According to the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, some 33 million rai of 41.17 million rai of forested land was marked preserved, and 6 million rai of the total 61 rai of protected land had inhabitants.
Panudej said that instead of driving people out of the forest, the authorities should encourage them to manage the area and help reforest the land in order to achieve the goal of boosting forested area to 40 per cent.