Female Genital Mutilation in Thailand
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the practice of partially cutting or eliminating a female individual’s genitalia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this tradition does not present any beneficial effects for women and can put them in danger due to unsanitary-cutting practices.

Muslim communities in Thailand (5-8% of the total population) consider FGM a ritual practice for female newborns after birth. Thailand’s health ministry turns a blind eye to cutting and relates the practice to culture; thus, it does not emphasize the harm that FGM causes.

Type IV Female Genital Mutilation in Thailand

Female genital mutilation in Thailand falls under type IV of the WHO classifications system. It is the least dangerous invasive process; it still involves cutting, incising and piercing of flesh, but it does not remove the clitoris.

Other types, I and II, involve partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia. Type III involves the vulva being sutured closed, meaning that during intercourse and childbirth, women must be cut open, creating life-threatening scenarios.

Practitioners argue that the consequences of type IV FGM are the least severe and that people should not consider it mutilation. However, Nawal Nour, the director of the Global Women’s Health Center at Harvard Medical School, argues that type IV can still create short and long-term consequences, from excessive bleeding and difficulty urinating to infertility.

Understanding the Risks

An issue Thailand faces is that practitioners believe smaller cuts are less harmful. In reality, they are just as dangerous; even a smaller cut inflicts pain and carries a high risk of infection. Botched jobs can lead to hemorrhage, infection, sepsis and death.

WHO has stated that invasive intervention of the female body violates the human rights of girls and women. Additionally, FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and the violation of minors. In Southern Thailand’s Yala, hospitals have nurses and doctors who regularly cut the genitals of newborn Muslim girls.

Since no one documents cutting in Thailand and the procedures occur during infancy, some women do not know they have experienced FGM until much later in life. Thus, most women who have undergone the procedure do not see consequences, leading some women to think that it is not harmful and helps reduce sexual desire.

Women and girls remain the most vulnerable populations worldwide, partly due to gender inequity and sexual and gender-based violence. Although the practice is against WHO guidelines, Thailand’s government has not prioritized prosecuting FGM.

Solutions

The Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) is fighting to end female genital mutilation. ARROW’s goal is to engage with religious scholars who can influence communities positively and urge governments, including Thailand’s government, to end FGM. Advocating for change should help stop girls in Thailand and across Asia from undergoing the procedure. The global focus of FGM has ignored Asia; ARROW’s work to eliminate FGM can change this and cause fewer women to be victims of cutting.

People across the globe practice FGM every day, both secretly and openly which results in women suffering painful consequences. Although people have traditionally thought of FGM as a practice that occurs in African countries, women in Asia are subject to the same pain. However, with the help of NGOs like ARROW, female genital mutilation in Thailand should disappear.

 – Yv Maciel
Photo: Flickr

 Digital Nomads’ Effects
When COVID-19 hit, remote work skyrocketed allowing many professionals to work wherever they wanted to, leading to a new type of traveler: the digital nomad, “people who embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle.” The main demographic of digital nomads are self-employed, well-educated young men working in the fields of technology, education and training, sales, market and public relations, consulting and creative services.

Digital nomads’ effects on host cities are both positive and negative as it creates economic opportunity, but also contribute to unwanted side effects for the locals. Two informative examples of digital nomads’ effects on host cities are Chiang Mai, Thailand and Mexico City, Mexico.

The Original Digital Nomad Magnet City: Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand is known as one of the largest hubs for digital nomads in the world and the cultural center of Northern Thailand. The main attractions of Chiang Mai for digital nomads are their convenient working spaces, various choices for accommodations, low cost of living and friendly locals. Chiang Mai is one of the best and oldest examples of digital nomads’ effects on host cities as it hosted these travelers long before the pandemic.

The effects of digital nomadism on Chiang Mai range from economic and socio-cultural to digital/built-environmental impacts. In regards to the economy, these affluent visitors help the local economy by purchasing local products and services like accommodations and co-working spaces. Thailand also collects visa fees from digital nomads although they are low. Although not a direct economic benefit, locals and interviewees for the research on digital nomads’ effects on host cities noted that another benefit is skill-sharing as digital nomads inspire locals into entrepreneurship. The negative economic impact is the price increase and gentrification in areas where digital nomads live, which has driven out locals who work for a normal wage.

Socio-Cultural Impact

The socio-cultural impact on Chiang Mai includes a positive relationship built between locals and digital nomads as these visitors consistently made an effort to respect local culture and customs, although many digital nomads do not learn Thai. Locals often prefer this type of foreign visitor to normal tourists, according to the research. Exposure to digital nomads has also increased the locals’ interest in digital work. The negative impact of digital nomads is their privilege, noted especially when the pandemic hit and Thai people were out of jobs, while the digital nomad community did not face such an impact.

Digital nomads also impacted the digital and business presence of Chiang Mai as they created coworking and coliving spaces in Chai Mai and brought in businesses that cater to American and European visitors like Amazon drop shipping storefronts, according to the same research. The presence of social media in distributing information about the lifestyle of digital nomads has boosted Chiang Mai’s already great popularity, according to the research. Overall, digital nomadism in Chiang Mai has grown and benefited the local community but has also contributed to unwanted impacts like pushing locals out of previously affordable neighborhoods.

The New Hub: Mexico City

For digital nomads, the economic benefit of living in a low-cost-of-living city like Mexico City yet still earning European or American salaries is huge. Their “purchasing power” is above the national average with the average salary of Mexican workers coming in at 4,300 pesos compared to the average Mexico City inhabitant’s average salary of 6,000 to 10,000 pesos. This leaves many locals unable to pay rent in previously affordable, popular neighborhoods like Hipódromo Condesa whose rent has risen from an average of 18,000 pesos per month to 60,000 pesos per month. Many Mexican workers have to move outside the city, which adds to their commute and leaves them in neighborhoods with few services and more pollution.

Although digital nomads’ effects on host cities bring economic benefits, according to Airbnb, the restaurants, transportation and tourism services in Mexico City brought in about 9.3 billion pesos, Mexican workers do not always see this money, El Pais reports. Many digital nomads from Europe and America do not tip appropriately due to different views on tipping, leaving Mexican waiters unable to keep up with already high inflation. Although the long-term benefits of digital nomads’ effects on host cities like Mexico City are still to be determined, it is important to note the new stresses and new realities local Mexicans must face as Mexico City becomes a popular digital nomad location.

The Future of Digital Nomads

A research study MBO Partners’ 2022 State of Independence conducted concluded that 16.9 million American workers describe themselves as digital nomads. This is a 9% increase from 2021 and a 131% increase from pre-pandemic 2019. As of 2022, 69% of digital nomads reported that they plan to continue as digital nomads for the next two to three years.

As digital nomads continue to increase in number, many countries implement special visas or programs to promote longer-term stays. The Remotely From Georgia program requires digital nomads to stay for one year while proving they have the financial ability to pay taxes and accommodations. Thailand offers digital nomads 10-year visas and low tax rates.

Moving forward, many hubs for digital nomads will likely adopt more measures like the one that Héctor Magaña, economist and professor at the Mexico City Business School, Monterrey Tech, recommended for Mexico City. He recommends Mexico regulate rent in accordance with the salaries of the inhabitants of the city in order to balance the inequity, El Pais reports. If states do not limit the influx of digital nomads, housing costs could continue to rise. Overall, the takeaway of digital nomads’ effects on host cities is that while certain cities become magnets for digital nomads, the city must create clear rules to protect their locals.

– Arden Schraff
Photo: Flickr

Diseases Impacting Thailand
Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia, bordering Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, with a population of 69 million as of 2018. In 2019, Thailand had nearly 40 million tourists with an expenditure of $15 billion, decreasing to just $3.68 billion in 2020 when COVID-19 struck. Since 2006, Thailand’s national poverty line has been steadily decreasing from 21.9% to 6.8%. However, there have been alternate increases throughout the years due to outbreaks of disease where less developed cities have not been able to stay consistent with the national poverty line. Here are the top three diseases impacting Thailand.

The Top 3 Diseases Impacting Thailand

  1. Ischemic Heart Disease. This disease impacting Thailand is a non-communicable cardiovascular disease. Heart attacks or strokes caused 75% of worldwide cases, where there are often no other symptoms. Once diagnosed, there are treatments a person can take to monitor the disease, however, there is no cure. It is the number one cause of death in Thailand and has risen 35% from 2009 to 2019. In 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that air pollution causes 23% of stroke and ischemic heart disease deaths, where Thailand’s annual mean for pollution is 32 µg/m3, an increase of 27 µg/m3 from the WHO’s guideline of 5 µg/m3.
  2. Chronic Kidney Disease. Diabetes and high blood pressure cause 75% of all chronic kidney disease cases. These illnesses can also cause anemia, weak bones, poor nutritional health and nerve damage. A person may have a higher risk of having chronic kidney disease if they have a family history of kidney failure, are older or have high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure or are African-American or Asian. If the disease is in its early stage, treatment can prevent it from getting worse. However, if the disease has progressed and the kidneys are failing, the individual may need to have a kidney transplant as there is no cure. This is the fourth top cause of death and the second top disease impacting Thailand, which has not decreased since 2009 despite the addressing of other high-ranking causes of death such as road injuries, COPD and HIV/AIDS.
  3. Diarrhoeal Disease. Diarrhea is a deathly symptom of many digestive diseases, which is the fifth top cause of death in Thailand, especially among children and the disease impacts Thailand’s poorer communities. About 74% of Thailand’s population does not have safe sanitation areas. Additionally, drinking unsafe water and poor sanitation areas and personal hygiene have caused 38% of deaths from diarrhea. Having safe food and water to consume, taking zinc supplements or children breastfeeding can reduce the severity of diarrhea. However, if the digestive disease has progressed or salmonella, which is a leading cause of diarrhoeal disease, was the cause, the sufferer will require further treatment.

Looking Ahead

In 2017, the average life expectancy in Thailand for females was 82 and for males, just 74. In 2018, individuals either earned or received and spent a total of $292 on health care, which could increase significantly by 2050. However, from 1990 to 2019, providing effective and essential health services has only improved by 14%, from 57.6% to 71.6% of what satisfiable health services Thailand needs to protect its citizens.

The National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP) and the 20-year National Public Health Policy work to improve quality and security and have primarily looked at air pollution, TB control, malaria, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions. While the top causes of death have sometimes changed, the policy should now focus on reducing disease due to stressful and unsanitary environments. The tiers currently include antimicrobial resistance, managing the health of the population by focusing on global health and trading, supporting migrant health by strengthening partnerships and services, reducing non-communicable disease by controlling tobacco, reducing childhood obesity and improving services to detect early signs of disease, and finally, improving road safety.

The CDC is currently working with Thailand to put into practice the WHO’s Global Hearts Initiative to reduce non-communicable diseases and death. In addition, the Thai FETP-NCD is researching cardiovascular health and disease in a bid to reduce premature deaths. There are also financial resources available for diarrhoeal disease, but there is only 50% of the support needed, and as it is a communicable disease, this number needs to drastically increase, especially in the summer when deaths rise due to severe heat, illness and disease that tourism helped spread.

Solutions to the Diseases Impacting Thailand

High blood pressure is a sign of stress that could lead to a stroke or heart disease. About 25% of adults from Thailand have hypertension, but almost half are unaware as there are no symptoms. To help irradicate cardiovascular disease, Thailand has set a goal to reduce 25% of hypertension by 2025 and reduce 30% of salt and sodium intake, where the average Thai consumes more than double the daily recommendation, via the Ministry of Public Heath’s 2016-2025 national sodium reduction policy and action plan. The plan focuses on surveillance, raising awareness, research and education for the public and companies so that the production of goods contains less salt and sodium, and people are aware of what and how much they are buying and consuming.

About 11.6 million people in Thailand have chronic kidney disease as of 2020, however, many people struggle to afford a health assessment or the treatment needed to save their life, especially in Northeast Thailand. The Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand created the Chronic Kidney Disease Program to prevent or delay the disease in order to stop complications. The program involves regular assessments of kidney function, diet-control advice from nutritionists, instruction about self-care and medicine with a handbook, overall health consultation and care and assessments from nephrologists and the hospital’s team.

The third of the diseases impacting Thailand is the most likely disease to affect Thailand’s poorer households. To irradicate diarrhoeal disease, water and sanitation areas require improvement. Thailand is currently planning for all areas to have safe and affordable drinking water, which includes reducing pollution and the dumping of harmful chemicals and materials, adequate sanitation and hygiene areas, particularly for women and girls, water support for nature and the ecosystem and starting international support for other developing nations by 2030.

– Deanna Barratt
Photo: Flickr

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in ThailandThe second country, after China, to report a COVID-19 case, Thailand has experienced tumultuous economic and social fluctuations following the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020. Thailand was particularly impacted in late 2020 and early 2021, during which the nation suffered from high unemployment rates, reduced incomes and increased food insecurity. Consequently, the pandemic plunged an estimated 800,000 people into poverty in Thailand.

Exacerbated Economic Ramifications

At a glance, Thailand’s GDP fell by 6.1% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thailand saw an eight-point decline in unemployment in urban areas and based on a 2020 World Bank survey, 50% of respondents reported that the pandemic negatively affected their jobs. Similarly, 70% of respondents reported a decline in household income, with the pandemic hitting rural, low-income households the hardest.

The country’s tourism sector, accounting for 20% of nationwide employment and a fifth of the nation’s GDP, faced stagnant tourism flows amid travel bans. Consequently, Thailand’s tourism slowdown significantly affected low-skilled workers, particularly women and children, in the tourism industry.

Government Initiatives Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

In light of pandemic adversities, the Thai government responded swiftly to mitigate the crisis. A policy package, consisting of a fiscal stimulus equivalent to 10% of GDP helped the nation avoid an economic and social crisis. The World Bank reported that 780,000 additional people would have fallen into poverty without the Thai government’s introduction of financial packages.

The government’s “No One Left Behind” program in 2020 also helped mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand; the government provided 80% of farming households with monthly cash transfers. In addition, the introduction of a farmers’ assistance program reached 63% of the government’s target audience.

The Current Status of Poverty Levels in Thailand

Thailand’s road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic remains promising. The  unemployment rate declined by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2022 and estimates indicate that poverty levels should decline to the country’s pre-pandemic levels. Overall, the country’s economy is projected to expand by 2.9% by the end of 2022. Notably, more than 57.3 million people, more than 80% of Thailand’s overall population, have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nonetheless, while Thailand’s economic and social sectors have improved since 2020, the nation is still facing the impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand. According to the World Bank, Thai households’ average labor income has declined while household debt has increased by 25%, resulting in increased loans to support lifestyles.

Future Undertakings

Thailand is continuing to increase its vaccination rates and boost its tourism sector to revitalize its economy. As of October 1, 2022, the Tourism of Authority of Thailand has lifted Thailand’s border restrictions, allowing travelers to visit Thailand without proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Additionally, in August 2022, the Thai government extended the previously 30-day tourist stay in Thailand to 45 days.

Amid Thailand’s reintroduction of tourism, future poverty levels remain elusive. Granting visitors extended stay without proof of a COVID-19 test could potentially bring a new wave of cases to the nation. Nonetheless, Thailand’s revitalized tourism sector will surely help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand. Hopefully, increased tourism will reinvigorate Thailand’s slow economy, declining poverty levels and boosting household income for good.

– Emma He
Photo: Unsplash

Automated Agriculture in Thailand
Agriculture is an essential component of Thailand’s economy. It supplies employment and economic security to millions of people. Yet, agriculture is currently on a sharp decline. As one of the largest rice exporters, Thailand has responded by becoming the first country to adopt smart agriculture. Automated agriculture in Thailand shows promise, but perils have tempered this promise. Should it succeed, this technology may prove essential in solving global food scarcity.

Food Security Issues

Internal issues trigger the dwindling agricultural sector in Thailand. For one, farmers are aging at an unprecedented rate. This casts a bleak shadow on the future of agricultural sustainability and could decrease investment. Furthermore, according to Bangkok Post, that aging could decrease food output and production.

Making matters worse: farm sizes are decreasing. One of the reasons could be unproductive outcomes and diminishing farming houses. Finally, there is a massive labor shortage in the current agricultural landscape. Overall, these challenges translate to less food for Thailand and the rest of the world.

Most salient in South Asia is the searing droughts. In 2020, the most severe drought in 40 years hit Thailand, hitting the agricultural sector hard. Rice and sugar production plummeted, prompting global food supply complications. Put simply: the dangerously low water levels were not enough to supplement the agricultural industry. By one measure, these severe droughts even led to a nearly 5% decrease in agricultural economic growth. As these droughts worsen yearly, Thailand had to look for more sustainable and resource-efficient farming methods.

While these complications threaten the global food supply, the demand for food only rises. With the global population expected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, the global food requirement is also expected to increase by 98% by 2050. Thus, Thailand is fighting an uphill battle against food insecurity, with internal and external forces endangering agriculture.

Promise of Automation

Recently, the Thai government declared a commitment to turning Thailand into a high-tech agricultural hub. It offered an array of incentives to companies that set up such technologies to increase efficiency. This flood of agricultural technology could help increase food yields while increasing efficiency.

For instance, it could decrease land and water use while using automated agriculture to increase the pace of production. Other technologies detect nutrients in the ground to target the most productive places to plant and fertilize.

Betagro, for example, has developed a smart farming project that experiments with robotics and drone technology to automate farming. These technologies deeply depend on sensors, which, combined with machine learning, can facilitate near fool-proof automation. This also offers the potential to slash costs while increasing food output. Meanwhile, Food Innopolis conducts research for innovating agricultural sustainability in Thailand. As of 2018, 35 businesses and counting have also created an innovation hub dedicated to automating agriculture, CNBC reported.

Perils of Automation

While automated agriculture in Thailand could revolutionize food, it may well come with costly consequences. First, like all automated technology, these practices could eventually lead to dire job displacement. However, automated agriculture and humans can and often must work in tandem. Such technologies could also degrade essential components of ecosystems due to their invasive nature. Malfunctions could also damage soil and leach water, harming both human and animal health.

Global Future

If automated agriculture in Thailand increases food and, in particular, rice production, future populations can avoid a detrimental famine. As Thailand becomes the first to build a high-tech agricultural kitchen, other countries will likely follow. It serves as a model for modernizing food in a sustainable setting.

– Ashwin Telang
Photo: Flickr

Thailand’s Marijuana Market Thailand has long been waging a brutal war against drug traffickers in the country. The crackdown came as a response to the rampant consumption of illegal drugs that began in the early 2000s in Southeast Asia. From incarcerating mere suspects to firing squad executions, the Thai government has not been lenient with outlaws, sometimes even bordering on human rights violations. This is why it comes as a surprise that on June 9, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana and hemp, four years after it legalized the usage of cannabis for medical purposes. However, this law comes with a few caveats. One of the caveats is that smoking marijuana in public for recreational purposes is still illegal and can lead to a “potential three-month sentence and 25,000 Thai baht ($780) fine.” Another is limiting the quantity of THC (the compound that makes consumers hallucinogenic) to 0.2% in cannabis products. The restrictions persist to ensure regulation. For the most part, the focus is being shifted from an anti-drug agenda to harnessing Thailand’s marijuana market for beneficial purposes.

The New Marijuana Market is Full of Economic Potential

Thailand is still largely an agrarian economy, with almost a third of the labor force employed in this sector. The law that allows the commercial sale of marijuana, comes as a big relief for farmers, who were in desperate need of cultivating a cash crop other than sugar and rice. This need is amplified by the fact that the economy has been in slumber ever since the pandemic struck, growing only about 1.6% in 2021.

The policy aims to help farmers get back on their feet and maintain a steady source of income. To encourage cultivation, the government handed out 1 million new cannabis seeds to households, free of charge. Leveraging Thailand’s ideal tropical climate for the growth of marijuana, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul estimated “the value of [the cannabis] industry to easily exceed $2 billion.”

To ensure a proper production and distribution system, the Food and Drug Administration has instructed all marijuana cultivators to register on an app called PlookGanja. According to the Bangkok Post, more than 100,000 people had registered and “the app was downloaded more than 50,000 times” on the morning of June 9 itself. A problem that can plausibly crop up when there are so many sellers is ensuring that the quality of marijuana is high and no product falls under the category of narcotics. Nevertheless, creating an orderly system helps the government keep track of illegal vendors and protect licensed businesses.

Products and Businesses based on the Marijuana Market

Around 1,181 marijuana-containing products, ranging from food and drinks to cosmetics and medicines, have been approved by The Health Ministry and are already out in Thailand’s markets. According to Reuters, the ministry expects the industry to be worth 15 billion baht ($435.16 million) by 2026. Thailand’s marijuana market possesses enormous potential and businesses like “Agro-industrial conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl (CPF.BK) and energy firm Gunkul Engineering (GUNKUL.BK)” are collaborating to produce cannabis-infused food and drinks for consumers.

The new business potentials are drawing in investments of more than 1.2 billion baht ($35 million), making the marijuana market very lucrative and a smart place for people to cash their money in.

Cannabis Tours and Medical Care

Cannabis tours in Thailand are expected to garner a lot of attention from tourists. Thailand has always been known as a prime wellness destination and the legalization of marijuana will help to build on this image. Many cafés, roadside stalls, restaurants and spas are selling juices, curries, popcorn, ice creams, soaps and oils infused with marijuana or cannabidiol (a safe compound found in cannabis) to help people de-stress. The sellers especially target international workers who come on corporate trips from countries where marijuana consumption is still not fully legal.

Ganja Café owner Thanyapat believes that the new law offers an “opportunity to offer new products and see a niche market expand to a mass market.” On the other hand, the Thailand government stresses that no foreigner should visit the country under the mentality of being able to smoke freely on the streets. The emphasis is on creating a healing environment, not an addictive one.

Apart from relaxation, another dimension of the cannabis tours is medical care. Marijuana is known for its pain-relieving medicinal properties and is more affordable than chemical drugs. The new law is paving the way for the establishment of hospitals, clinics and wellness centers that employ certified cannabis doctors and focus on cannabis treatment. This implies a huge expansion of Thailand’s marijuana market.

Educational Cannabis Tours and The Next Phase

It will take time to build the infrastructure and combat the stigma associated with marijuana. However, Thailand conducted pilot projects on “educational cannabis tours” a few years prior and these tours saw significant success. The tours came about through a partnership between Than Global Travels and Rajamangala University of Technology Isan, Sakon Nakhon Campus, and attracted people of all ages and occupations.

Than Global Travel Executive Officer Kattikamas Thanyajaroen states that “the next phase of cannabis tours will focus on medical care for people who want to use cannabis at clinics or universities for treatment.”

Making it Count

Thailand’s marijuana market may be the stimulus the economy needs to start growing rapidly. With proper precautions in place, the legalization of marijuana could indeed be a profitable venture for all citizens.

Anushka Raychaudhuri
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in Thailand
In 1916, Thai monarch King Vajiravudh established the first formal university in the nation. Named Chulalongkorn University after the king’s father, the institution’s founding, along with the royal family’s surrounding emphasis on higher education in Thailand, represented the high value that the Thai monarchy has historically placed on higher education.

Overview of the Higher Education System

Throughout the next century, higher education in Thailand expanded, and as of 2016, the country had 170 institutions of higher education in the form of universities. Admittance to universities largely hinges upon a standardized entrance exam that Thailand has used since 1962.

Unfortunately, the widespread use of this “meritocratic system” of the entrance to universities “favors those of higher socioeconomic background from the best secondary schools” over students from more rural and impoverished backgrounds as rural students are not as likely to take or pass the exam.

Just as unfortunate, in recent decades, enrollment in Thai universities has declined as the demand for university education has dropped off due to reasons “such as the decline of the Thai birth rate and international competition.” Decreased enrollment is now a critical issue that higher education in Thailand faces. For example, in 2015, the number of students who participated in entrance exams stood at around 105,000 while the entrance system had the capacity to annually admit 156,000 students.

The Reason This Matters

On the surface, this may not seem like a pressing problem. However, unfortunately, the declining enrollment is an indication of something far more serious: the rapid aging of the Thai population.

In the year 1970, the Thai government introduced the National Family Planning Program, which, combined with the rising education levels in Thailand, caused a decrease in fertility rates. By 2014, Thailand’s declining fertility rate was falling the fastest out of all the world’s developing nations.

The number of college-age citizens is decreasing and will continue to do so. According to the World Bank Group, “By 2040, it is projected that 17 million Thais will be 65 years or older – more than a quarter of the population.”

The consequences are that higher education in Thailand is now at risk. Universities might have to start downsizing programs or even close their doors permanently. Additionally, this is a challenge for Thai education as the nation is struggling to improve the quality of its colleges. Thailand does not have any highly ranked universities in the international world of higher education and this may be causing the best and brightest students to seek their diplomas elsewhere.

Taking Action

There is a concern that Thailand will not be able to cope with its changing labor market. Recent economic trends show that Thailand is in need of workers with technical or vocational training, and in light of the aging population, this area requires attention.

Fortunately, efforts are underway to reallocate resources, ensuring that the nation prioritizes the most practical programs. Some universities are becoming vocational training institutes and others are simply putting a larger emphasis on technical education.

In September 2021, the Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand (APHEIT) and Oracle Thailand partnered to increase access to computer science training for students in Thailand. The initiative will involve 39 universities from APHEIT and will help students “succeed in the new digital era” through hands-on practical training. These skills will open up more job opportunities relevant to today.

Higher education in Thailand has a unique challenge ahead of it, but fortunately, there are always innovative ways to increase the future efficiency of a workforce and the education system provides an opportune starting point.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Thailand
In February 2021, a military coup in Myanmar removed the country’s democratically-elected President from power and instated an autocratic regime that the Tatmadaw controlled. In response, citizens organized massive protests against the military institution which continued into 2022. Politicians and reporters have given Myanmar significant attention following the political upheaval, as refugees leave in droves to neighboring countries like Thailand, continuing a migration trend that has persisted for decades. Additionally, as of January 2022, UNHCR has estimated that there were 91,408 Myanmar refugees in Thailand. However, crossing the border is not a solution in and of itself, especially since Thailand’s government offers limited protections to those seeking asylum.

The Dynamics Between Myanmar-Thailand

Myanmar is far from the only dictatorship in Southeast Asia. Thailand shares a fluctuating political record. Despite ongoing student protests, the current “semi-democratic” regime allows the monarchy and military to maintain a tight grip on domestic politics. Not only has the government subjugated its own people, but it exacerbated the poor conditions of refugees in Thailand.

In addition to certain political similarities, the leaders of the Tatmadaw and the Royal Thai Army have worked together to govern illegal activities along their shared border. Additionally, unlike other Southeast Asian countries, which have largely condemned the junta in Myanmar, Thailand has committed to a diplomatic approach to its conflict-ridden neighbor and has “refrained from criticizing the junta” despite its human rights abuses, according to The Diplomat. This dynamic also shows through the close relationship between Myanmar’s coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the late president of Thailand’s Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Thailand’s Treatment of Myanmar Refugees

Since the nature of Thailand’s government, people fleeing Myanmar receive no guarantee of personal safety. Refugees are unable to legally work, leaving them wholly dependent on aid and the camps where they live lack necessary resources including food, education and health services. On top of that, Thailand’s Immigration Act categorizes all refugees in Thailand as illegal immigrants, which makes them vulnerable to arrest and deportation regardless of international norms, according to UNHCR.

As a result, Thailand has sent thousands back to Myanmar. This number includes a group of more than 3,000 who had settled in tents on the Thai side of the Thaung Yin River. These people involuntarily returned to Myanmar territory, where they could face political or ethnic persecution on top of poor living conditions with limited access to clean food and water.

While the close ties between Thailand and Myanmar’s governments coincide with their shared human trafficking agreements, both states exclude Rohingya migrants from their policies. This creates an environment rife with human trafficking in both states, as government officials knowingly and illegally traffic refugees into third countries.

Solutions

The international community could take action to protect those fleeing Myanmar, and in some ways, it already has. A joint statement from several aid agencies called on international governments and organizations to meet the needs of Myanmar citizens and refugees. The statement drew attention to all the displaced people and asylum-seekers lacking shelter, food, water and other basic needs. It also called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Thailand is a founding member, to “formulate a clear action plan” that would lead to “the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar,” according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Furthermore, UNHCR urged Thailand to extend greater humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers in its borders and offered assistance, as did several humanitarian non-government organizations.

In addition, the U.S. Senate is currently deliberating the BURMA Act of 2021, or S.2937, which would protect refugees’ basic rights, provide access to higher education in refugees in Thailand and provide humanitarian aid to social and ethnic groups in Myanmar and Thailand. The U.S. has already led bipartisan efforts to encourage democracy in Myanmar and it seems that it will continue to do so in 2022.

– Lauren Sung
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Green Efforts
Global poverty is an increasingly pressing issue that obstructs the development of various nations around the world. In 2019, Nowcast estimated the extreme poverty rate at 8.2%. The number continued to increase as it reached 9.5% in 2020. However, global poverty remains the focus of many non-governmental organizations as United Nations-led programs return to the forefront of the battle against it. However, as various factors continue to intersect with the already dire situation, the diversification of poverty initiatives became an important requirement. Thus, the United Nations launched the Poverty-Environment Initiative to highlight the importance of sustainability and green efforts when it comes to tackling poverty within developing nations.

What is the Poverty-Environment Initiative?

The Poverty-Environment Initiative is an effort that several United Nations factions and departments launched to tackle the impacts of poverty through environmental development. U.N. Environment, UNDP, UNCDF and U.N. Women have backed the initiative. Currently, the initiative is operating in various countries within Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe. The collaborative effort explores the various ways poverty-alleviating policies can intersect with environmental goals to guarantee a more sustainable and healthy future in developing nations.

What are the Poverty-Environment Initiative’s Main Goals?

The Poverty-Environment Initiative’s main aim is to reduce the potentially damaging repercussions of economic growth on the environment. The initiative recognizes that many developing nations often exploit their natural resources and damage various ecosystems to pry themselves out of poverty. Various phenomena such as rising per capita consumption, industrialization and the rapid and uncontrolled increase of agriculture occur when a struggling nation attempts to diversify income resources.

Governments’ fixations on increasing economic development often make environmental degradation a negligible repercussion. As countries grow more industrialized, alleviating poverty comes at a devastating cost: an increase in air pollution. For example, the Chinese government could have pulled its people out of severe poverty. However, as the living standards increased, the quality of air worsened significantly. The decrease in the quality of air had detrimental impacts on the overall population’s health as well as China’s local ecosystems and wildlife.

Consequently, centering profit and sidelining environmental repercussions within government policies greatly affected the environment in developing countries. Therefore, the Poverty-Environment Initiative’s green efforts extend to improving the quality of life for those in developing nations without allowing environmental degradation to be a consequence. Moreover, it is important to note that the initiative uses the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to set a clear roadmap toward reaching its objectives.

The Poverty-Environment Initiative’s Success Story in Thailand

The Poverty-Environment Initiative’s work in Asia yielded promising results, especially within Thailand’s most vulnerable provinces, according to a UNDP-UNEP report. Thailand’s Ministry of Interior led the operations and several partners such as Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the National Economic and Social Development Board provided assistance. The initiative’s efforts started within three major provinces: Samut Songkram, Nan and Khon Kaen.

To aid development, the initiative implemented various methods in the three provinces. For example, the U.N. programs studied the ecosystems within the three provinces using integrated ecosystem assessments to supply clear and concise data to lawmakers and governmental departments. The data could be a helpful planning and budgeting asset while keeping green policies and environment-friendly practices in mind, as UNEP reports.

In addition, the Poverty-Environment Initiative’s green efforts extended to a policy tool known as the “green growth indicators,” which allows government officials and ministries to track the environmentally friendly growth achieved.

The Poverty-Environment Initiative managed to build a clear roadmap to a green and sustainable economy by supplying developing countries with the tools necessary to make informed decisions.

– Nohad Awada
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19 in Thailand
COVID-19 and the economic consequences of its spread have caused greater levels of poverty in Thailand since 2020. Reports determined that the COVID-19 pandemic plunged almost 800,000 people into poverty in 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand has primarily manifested as a spike in unemployment. By spring of 2021, Thailand’s job market had 710,000 fewer jobs compared to the previous year. The pandemic also adversely affected tourism flow to the nation, which accounts for about a fifth of GDP and 20% of employment. Thailand’s economy and poverty levels have not experienced such a negative impact since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.

Government Initiatives to Mitigate Poverty

The government’s initiative, however, in responding to this crisis has somewhat curbed the pandemic’s potential for further devastation. Authorities were quick to introduce quarantine measures that were effective in containing the virus during most of 2020. Though several waves of infections have exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand, the policy packages were effective in creating fiscal stimulus.

The support ranged from financial assistance for debtors to health-related spending for affected households, including those outside the social security system. Simulations suggest that more than 780,000 additional people could have fallen into poverty in 2020 if the government had not bolstered social support.

Thailand’s Continued Alleviation of Poverty

Thailand’s efficient response to the pandemic is impressive, but not surprising. Since 1988, the country has reduced its poverty levels from 65.2% to 6.2% in 2019, according to the World Bank. Its most effective initiative was to scale up cash transfer programs such that it became one of the largest scale fiscal responses to COVID-19 in the world.

“The crisis in 2020 demonstrated Thailand’s ability to leverage its robust and universal digital ID, sophisticated and interoperable digital platform and a number of administrative databases to filter eligibility for new cash transfer programs,” said Francesca Lamanna, the Senior Economist at the World Bank.

The Current Status of Poverty Levels in Thailand

While the government has responded relatively well, the country continues to struggle as it enters the fourth wave of COVID-19. The official unemployment rate was 2% in the first quarter of 2021 due to COVID-19, with the loss of jobs most concentrated in the services sector. On the one hand, slow vaccination rollout and widespread doubt seem to be stalling recovery. On the other, some infected individuals living below the poverty line may go so far as to violate quarantine rules in order to continue earning much-needed income.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand and its economic dependence on contact-intensive sectors means the continuing waves of infection prolong unemployment, with financially vulnerable groups bearing a disproportionate burden of economic insecurity.

Volunteer Workers Spearhead Poverty Aid Missions

In response to these conditions, the number of volunteers in Thailand has also been surging. Bangkok Community Help is one such organization. It has grown to more than 400 participants since its founding early in the pandemic in 2020. Greg Lange and Friso Poldervaart are two restaurant owners that spearheaded the community initiative after neighbors approached them to inquire if they could use their empty restaurant kitchens to prepare hot meals.

While the scale has transformed considerably, Bangkok Community Help’s main objective remains to assist vulnerable sections of Bangkok through volunteer and donation initiatives. “After [last April and May], we decided to focus more on more long-term projects, like building houses for people, turning a garbage dump into a park, and teaching kids,” Lange and Poldervaart told TimeOut.

Donations vary in scale and source. Individuals may hand out meals they prepared themselves to hungry construction workers, while foreign aid initiatives fund larger-scale operations such as survival packages of preserved goods. Australian Aid paid for rice recently distributed outside of Bangkok’s main port facilities through the Australian Government Aid Program. The program provides small grants in support of local, non-governmental organizations in Thailand.

The New Zealand – Thai Chamber of Commerce, an organization dedicated to promoting commerce between Thailand and New Zealand, donated apples. These organizations have even employed volunteers to bring oxygen tanks to the homes of the infected when hospitals were overcrowded, in the hopes of keeping them alive until a hospital bed becomes available. Bangkok Community Help continues to inspire individual and government action through its aid, opening aid centers and converting unused schools and auditoriums into treatment centers.

Future Possibilities

Looking towards the future of COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Thailand, there are different projections. The devastation of the pandemic is a large-scale issue that called for radical measures, but the methods of mitigation employed may be useful in shifting political focus towards strengthening social support systems in the future. These circumstances have the potential to catalyze an economic reform in Thailand, such that its industries can become more digital.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the authorities see this as an opportunity to transform tourism from low-cost, high-density travel, to high-end, low-density travel. This would allow for other domestic industries to flourish without wreaking havoc on the country’s economy. It may also be more ecologically friendly, offering greater protection of natural resources on which the tourism industry is dependent. All of these factors have the potential to gradually reduce the number of people living below the poverty line, by strengthening Thailand’s social and fiscal fiber.

– Arahi Fletcher
Photo: Unsplash