Locals learn the benefits of environmental protection in Thailand

Over the last several decades, Thailand has seen remarkable economic growth, but at a high social and environmental cost. Rising consumption, industrialization and the intensification of agriculture have placed enormous strain on natural resources. As a result, communities who rely mostly on farming, forestry and fishing for their livelihoods have been adversely affected.

But in Samut Songkram, Thailand’s smallest province, the outlook is good. In spite of strong pressure to industrialize and the threat posed by mass tourism to its traditional life style and unique environment, the province has managed to hold on to its agriculture-based livelihoods, ranking fifth among Thailand’s 76 provinces in the national Human Development Report.

Samut Songkram’s success was achieved in part of an innovative programme that helps policy makers better address the problems of environment and poverty in an integrated manner. Launched in 2010 in Thailand, the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) is a joint programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment).

Working together with the Ministry of interior, the initiative supported capacity building for provincial and local government planners and strengthened community scientific knowledge to support the sustainable use of natural resources in their own locality. “People understand better how well-being is linked directly to ecosystems and the surrounding environment,” says Pawin Talerngsri, PEI Project Coordinator in Thailand

“It allowed us to participate more effectively in the planning of the local community,” says Chitchanuwat Maneesrikum, the coordinator of a local NGO. “We can now analyze the economic, environmental and social problems and use the information to make better planning decisions.”

Other provinces, like Samut Songkram’s neighbor, Samut Sakorn, boast higher income and employment, but perform lower in terms of housing, education, and living environments. Pollution and health are also concerns, as the province is much more industrialized.

The initiative also engaged the public and increased local understanding of the connection between poverty and the environment through workshops and seminars. “It allowed us to learn from other communities so that we can adopt good practices for our own use,” says Tongkam Juathai, a local villager.

This article was first published on www.undp.org

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