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Poverty on the Rise in Thailand - 2001-11-19

After five years of weak economic performance, Thailand is seeing poverty levels rise, after more than a decade of remarkable decline. A new World Bank report details the problem.

The World Bank says two decades of economic boom in Thailand reduced the poverty level by two-thirds, from 32 percent in 1988 to 11 percent in 1996. But it says stagnant growth since then caused the poverty rate to rise to 16 percent by 1999.

The World Bank issued the findings Monday in a report examining poverty and public policy in one of the Asia's once-booming economies.

One of the authors of the report, the World Bank's Christopher Chamberlin, says data in the study reveal that not only is poverty on the rise again, but this time it is more entrenched and will be more difficult to address. "The message is that Thailand has done a very good job, both with economic growth and with some of its programs, in very substantially reducing the poverty problem in Thailand," he said. "But now things have changed and poverty is back and it's going to need a more focused and deliberate effort to reduce it because it has structural dimensions."

The report defines poverty as an individual living on the equivalent of $2 a month, or $10 a month for the average Thai family.

The study says the people most affected by an economic downturn are those who own very small plots of land, and those with little or no education. It also says that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Mr. Chamberlin says these factors make it harder for the poor to benefit when the economy recovers. "Growth is key," he said. "But to get the most benefits out of growth, Thailand must make sure that income distribution does not deteriorate and that they accompany such growth with some targeted efforts to reach these-hard-to-reach people."

The study says nearly all of Thailand's poor live in about 21,000 villages. These villages, about one-third of the total in the country, lie in provinces that receive the least government aid. Mr. Chamberlin says the next step is to identify the villages and find ways to invest in the poor through education and land distribution programs.