UN Common Country Assessment


Chapter 7 : The Environment



Deforestation and the Loss of Biological Diversity


Management of Marine Resources


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With the UN Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the environment has taken on a top priority in international development issues. In Thailand the rapid development of the last two decades has brought a whole series of environment-related issues as pollution in urban areas, destruction of natural resources and natural hazards have come to affect the quality of life of the majority of the inhabitants and threaten the very path of development itself.

So many of these issues have come to revolve around the presence and/or absence of that most basic of resources, water. Deforestation has helped to accelerate run-off causing flooding in parts of the country. Unrestricted urban growth has brought about the diminution of ground water supply in other areas. Untreated sewage and lack of adequate disposal of industrial effluent has destroyed the quality of water in many parts of the country. Thus, although "water" itself has not been identified as a separate issue, it is an underlying theme to the challenges that follow in this section on the Environment. Unless Thailand can plan for the adequate supply of quality water for its urban and rural populations, and manage that resource rationally over the next few years, virtually all other development areas will be under threat.

Deforestation and the Loss of Biological Diversity


Thailand was formerly rich in forest resources. At the beginning of the century, the country was estimated to have about 46 million ha of forests, more than 90% of the total land area. Thailand is also situated in a unique biogeographical position straddling four of Asia’s biomes, supporting a wide array of forest types ranging from tropical rain forests in the south, to dry evergreen, mixed deciduous, dry deciduous, and hill evergreen forests further north. These forests support an extremely species-rich flora and fauna with an estimated 14~18,000 vascular plants, 1,200 butterflies, 922 birds, 307 reptiles, 297 mammal species, in addition to countless other organisms, many of which are not yet known to the world. When these natural forest resources are degraded and deforested in the course of modernisation, a rich biological diversity (biodiversity) has also been degraded and lost.

Data and analysis

In 1948 the Royal Government of Thailand reported to the FAO that the country had 32.43 million ha of forests, covering 63.2% of the total land area. The first nation-wide forest inventory, conducted during 1958-61 by using aerial photography, found that the country had 27.36 million ha of forest (53.3% of the total land area). This trend towards deforestation accelerated during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The highest deforestation rate was recorded during 1976-78 at 1.11 million ha per year. A deforestation rate of half a million ha per year continued during the 1980s, but it has dropped in recent years to 100,000 ha per year as shown in Table 1 and Chart 1.


During the period 1900-1998, the country’s population increased from an estimated 5.7 million to 60.6 million. As the increasing population required more food and wood, forests were cut and burnt to expand agricultural land. An estimated 2 million ha of agricultural land in 1900, had expanded to 24.0 million ha by 1991, but decreased to 21.6 million ha in 1994. Large forest areas once opened for agriculture (mainly by ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture) were later abandoned as wasteland. Therefore, the main cause of deforestation in Thailand was agricultural expansion. The construction of infrastructure, dams, roads, industrial and housing estates, was another cause of deforestation. Logging operations that harvested timber selectively (only commercially valuable trees at a level of 1-5 per ha) did not directly cause deforestation, but logging roads constructed in forests made the access of landless farmers to forests easier. Through this process, deforestation has accelerated. From 1977 Thailand became a net importer of wood in 1977

The consequences of deforestation and degradation in natural forests are a series of environmental, social and economic problems, such as frequent floods, droughts and landslides; soil erosion and siltation; the loss of biodiversity; changing climate patterns; shortage of water, timber, wood for fuel, and fodder; and so forth.

In November 1988, large-scale landslides and flash floods hit the southern part of Thailand, claiming about 400 villagers’ lives. Excessive logging operations and extensive rubber plantations on the hills were blamed as a cause of landslides and flash floods. This disaster triggered a nation-wide logging ban in January 1989, which is still in force. This decision silently but practically declared that forestry in Thailand, based on rich natural forests, was over and the country has been forced to meet most of its timber demand from neighbouring countries.

The remaining natural forest areas have been assigned as protected areas like national parks or wildlife sanctuaries. Logging in natural forests has stopped. Consequently, Thai forestry has shifted its policy to developing plantation forests. In this connection, reforestation programmes have been enhanced with teak, pines, and fast-growing exotic tree species, such as eucalyptus and acacias. Thailand has reforested some 800,000 ha of government-owned land (the survival rate of these plantations is about 65-70%).

To celebrate His Majesty’s Golden Jubilee of his accession to the throne, the Royal Thai Government carried out a nation-wide tree planting movement from 9 June 1994 to 9 June 1996. The target area for tree planting was 5 million rai (800,000 ha). RFD was assigned as the co-ordinating agency and achieved about 1.5 million rai (estimated survival rate 70%). They have decided to continue this movement up to 1999 to reach the original target.

In recognition of the grave plight of the country’s natural forest resources, biodiversity rich areas have been identified and declared as legally protected areas. By the end of 1997, 7.82 million ha or 60.4% of the remaining forest area (or 15.2% of the total land area) were covered by one of four protected area designations, namely "national parks", "wildlife sanctuaries", "forest parks", and "non-hunting areas".

Since the Seventh National Economic and Social Development Plan (1992-96), the Royal Thai Government has set a policy to put 25% of the total land area under protected forests, a large part of which should consist of these four protected areas. Despite the effort to further increase the protected areas, however, they are still threatened. The biological consequences of habitat fragmentation and degradation are other factors that threaten the flora and fauna in forests.

Data quality and needs:

In recent years, the statistical data on forestry, agriculture, and populations have reached a satisfactory level in Thailand. However, reliable data for biodiversity, including species information on flora and fauna, their locations and habitat conditions are still far from complete. There is no established method to assess and monitor their reality.



The rapid development of Thailand over the last 20 years has undoubtedly had a major influence on the quality of the environment in Thailand. Both the pace of industrialisation and subsequently of urbanisation have led to environmental degradation and environmental threats through pollution. The most important forms of pollution are air, water, solid waste, and hazardous (including toxic) waste pollution. Pollution is one of the issues to be addressed following Agenda 21 developed within the UNCED process (UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, 1992).


Good data on pollution are available form the Pollution Control Department (PCD), Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MOSTE). A report on pollution in Thailand is published annually and the report for 1997 will be published shortly. Problems related to pollution tend to be geographically concentrated in Thailand. For example, the Bangkok Metropolitan Region faces problems primarily associated with solid waste, water and air pollution, while the Eastern Seaboard struggles with hazardous waste. Chiang Mai district has to deal with the issue of with solid waste while the Khon Kaen area has to deal with water (river) pollution. In addition specific pockets of particular types of, mainly industrial, pollution exist thoughout the country, for example, air pollution around Lampang from the Mae Moh power generating plant.

Surface water pollution is mainly caused by the discharge of untreated or inadequately treated wastewater into the rivers by industrial, commercial and residential users. Coastal water pollution occurs as well, but mainly as secondary pollution through surface water pollution. Isolated cases of oil spills in the seas surrounding Thailand have been recorded as well. Air pollution is one of the most obvious and important environmental problems of the BMR and provincial cities as industrialisation and transportation expand. The most significant air pollution factors are dust and carbon monoxide.

The concentration of types of pollution should allow for an easier identification of polluters and hence a means for addressing the problems effectively. However, a number of constraints exist. First, although the necessary environmental legislation exists (e.g., polluter-pays-principle), there is little implementation . Second, the judicial system that should deal with the transgressors of environmental legislation is virtually non-existent. Third, average management attitudes in industry are still not geared towards sustainable industrial development. The resources of the Environmental Fund, set up to promote industry investment in pollution control and encourage the minimisation of waste, remain essentially untapped. Lack of knowledge and awareness leads in some cases to the selection of inappropriate solutions to certain problems, as in the case of the growth in the number of incinerators, because of public resistance against landfills. The on-going economic and financial crisis is expected to sharpen the pollution problems that Thailand is facing, as environmental compliance is easily regarded as an expenditure only affordable at a time of affluence.

Data Quality and Needs

Generally the quality of specific pollution measurements are good. However, there still exists a need to arrive at workable definitions of aggregate data, such as a "water pollution index", for use in the regulatory framework. There is also a definite need for more continuous monitoring (more regular measurements) and for ensuring the generation of -also internationally- comparable time series.

Management of Marine Resources


The widespread introduction of exclusive economic zones (EEZ’s) in the late seventies and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 provided the framework for a better management of marine resources. About 90 per cent of the world’s marine fisheries comes from EEZ’s which clearly denotes the importance of coastal waters for fisheries. The need for an efficient management and sustainable development was recognised and FAO prepared an international Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries to address these concerns. The Code is voluntary but widely accepted among the member countries in the region including Thailand.

Data and Analysis

The fisheries in Thailand can be divided into 3 major groups:

Each group has its own particular problems even if these are partly linked to the activities of the other groups. The production of marine fisheries and aquaculture over the last 46 years is shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: Production of marine fisheries and aquaculture of Thailand from 1950-1996

The introduction of new fishing techniques, namely trawling has increased the marine production from about a stable 150.000 metric tones per annum up to 1960 to about 1.5 million tones (mmt) in 1972. Since 1972, Thailand has ranked among the world’s top ten fishing nations (fig. 1) with a production of marine fish and shellfish reaching about 3.2 mil. mmt in 1996 (FAO, in prep.). However, during the last ten years, the increase in the marine production in Thai waters has been slowing down; the increase comes mainly from the aquaculture.

The problem in the commercial fisheries is the low catch per unit. In 1961 a trawler could catch about 297 kg/h of demersal fish per hour, it was only 23 kg/h in 1991. This indicates the over utilisation as well as the over capitalisation in trawl fisheries. Furthermore, Thai fishermen are well known for illegal fishing in almost all waters of neighbouring countries. A reduction of the fishing capacity of the Thai fleet is urgently needed.

Another serious problem is the unequal distribution of the catch between commercial and small-scale fisheries. While commercial fisheries catch about 85 per cent of the fish, small-scale fisheries provides work for about 80 per cent of all Thai fishermen. This causes severe problems among these two groups. Although the government has banned trawling, push netting and shellfish racking within a distance of 3 km from the shoreline to protect the fishing grounds of the small-scale fishermen, enforcement of such measures was inadequate. As a result, the income of the small-scale fishermen is below the national average income. The coastal resources are heavily exploited and do not produce enough fish to guarantee a living for small-scale fishermen. Alternative income generating activities have to be promoted and assistance has to be given to protect the coastal waters not only for the small-scale fishermen but also for recreational activities and the tourist industry. Aquaculture, especially shrimp aquaculture, is not seen as an income generating activity that has much further potential for extension .

Thailand has rules and regulations to protect marine resources, such as the designation of protected areas and national parks and restrictions on fishing in certain areas at certain times of the year. The problem is the enforcement of these rules and regulations. For example, along the Andaman coast (740 km of coastline), the Department of Fisheries has only two patrol boats to control fishing activities. A proper system of fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance is needed to ensure sustainable fisheries in Thailand’s marine waters.

Thailand’s fisheries have only very limited access to the deep-sea resources like tuna. Foreign fishing fleets land most of the catch. If Thailand builds up its own deep sea fishing fleet; a proper management of these highly migratory fish stocks will be needed. Assistance could be provided by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to ensure a sustainable use of these resources. It has to be mentioned that the lack of information and biological data about these fish stocks is one major constraint for the development of a sustainable fisheries management in deep-sea fisheries.

Data quality and Needs

The quality of the available data is high. There are problems in data collection for small-scale fisheries due to the fact that a large number of fisherfolk are using a large variety of equipment. This leads to underestimation of the catch and of the importance of small-scale fisheries in Thailand.



The Habitat Agenda set the dual goals of ensuring adequate shelter for all and making human settlements and communities more productive, healthy, safe, non-discriminatory, equitable and sustainable, as a prerequisite for development, stability, justice and human solidarity. Cities have been synonymous with growth however they have become more and more subject to dramatic crisis, especially in developing countries. Poverty, environmental decline, lack of urban services, deterioration of existing infrastructure, and access to land and shelter are the main areas of concern.

Data and Analysis

In Thailand the urbanisation process has continued unabated over the last decades with the result that both goals of the Agenda are being jeopardised. Urbanisation in Thailand is characterised by the extreme primacy of the Bangkok Metropolitan Region which accounts for about a fifth of the total population. However, in recent years medium-sized cities have grown at the same pace. Today 34 per cent of the population lives in urban areas and the urban population is growing at a rate of 2.4 per cent per annum, 1.4 times as fast as the national population (see table 1).

Table 1 Population and urban growth in Thailand, 1975-1995

















Among the issues that arise out of the urbanisation process in Thailand is the rapid and largely uncontrolled spread of the cities in the country. In particular, the almost unregulated land development within, but even more, outside the city limits is problematic. Large and medium-sized urban development appears to take place, wherever a developer finds suitable or often even unsuitable land.

This unregulated physical expansion of the urban areas puts enormous strain on the provision of infrastructure and services. Transportation links are privately and often haphazardly developed, thus not providing a rational road network. Sanitation, in the absence of a citywide grid system, has to be provided locally on-site, increasing costs and making standards unenforceable. This has become particularly evident in the Metropolitan Region of Bangkok, but also holds for the regional cities too.

There is a need for an effective land-use system to guide sustainable development and the optimum use of land as a resource. The different levels of land-use management, combined with a system to control development, requires a good local government structure and an adequate land-value system. Land-use control procedures should recognise the circumstances of populations, and the need to include informal sector requirements and to respect and protect land-holding patterns of the urban poor.

The current economic crisis, triggered to a large extend by a booming construction sector, may provide some breathing space which will allow the institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks to put in place which will govern the future development of the urban centres in a better regulated and rational way.

A second major problem resulting from urbanisation is the increase of urban poverty, which is characterised by lack of adequate shelter, including social housing, economic stagnation and social instability. That the economic crisis has affected the urban poor adversely is evident. The extent and nature of the negative impact has not yet been systematically documented. An estimated 10 per cent of the population in the cities is still living in poor housing conditions with insufficient infrastructure and services. While the Government has put in place some mechanisms to support the development of low-income communities, e.g. the Urban Community Development Office, the urban poor are still often under the direct threat of eviction and in need of better protection. Again the economic downturn might ease the pressure on those communities by reducing the demand for land for speculative as well as for other more productive development purposes.

Data needs

The effective implementation of the Habitat Agenda requires strengthening local authorities, community organisations and non-governmental organisations in the spheres of education, health, poverty eradication, human rights, social integration, infrastructure provision, improvement of the quality of life and relief and rehabilitation, enabling them to participate constructively in policy-making and implementation. To face the challenges of continued rapid urbanisation, the international community should be supporting the building of the frameworks needed for facilitating local efforts in human settlements management, capacity-building programmes and the exchange of experiences of policy responses to urbanisation and integrated regional development.

Indicators for chapter 7

I. For which data exist:

II. For which data do not yet exist

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Dated: 26Jan1999