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Thailand Continues to Battle Poverty, says UN Report - 2003-05-27

A new United Nations study shows that much of Thailand benefits from rapid economic growth, but pockets of severe poverty linger. The study shows many smaller communities want more economic reforms and a greater say in future development.

The U.N. Development Program report highlights the vast disparities in Thailand - from Bangkok's congested traffic and skyscrapers to rural households without cooking gas.

Thailand's population of 62 million is almost double the number of the early 1970s. The report says the rapid growth puts pressure on infrastructure and communities.

The fast-growing economy of the mid-1990s drew millions from agriculture to city life, and manufacturing exports began to dominate agricultural exports.

UNDP representative in Thailand Robert England said the communities surveyed for the report welcomed the benefits of economic growth, better health, and education. But many communities think the gains have come at a cost. And since the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s, the benefits have shrunk.

The report highlights that the country, said Mr. England, is at a crucial stage in its development.

"The report sees Thailand at the crossroads in the process of economic recovery, with a reform agenda with still much to be implemented," he said. "It sees hubs of progress, but it sees real pockets of deprivation and it sees a country struggling with the process of globalization."

The report notes that Thailand faces major social issues ranging from poverty, especially in the northeastern provinces where debt levels stand at almost 100 percent of income, to communities under stress due to the breakdown of family life.

But the report says the boom, and then the bust of the late 1990s made people aware of such issues as environmental damage, social justice, and community strength, as well as opening the way for the decentralization of government.

Political scientists and economic planners see the report as a tool for Thailand's government and community leaders, who can use it to decide how to allocate funds for community needs.