|The Impact of Technology on Human Rights: Global Case-studies (UNU, 1993, 322 pages)|
|3. Technology and human rights: critical implications for Thailand|
The majority of the world's population live in rural areas. This is the case in Thailand, where some 70 per cent of the population are rural-based. They are also disadvantaged by limited access to basic services and belong to the poorer stratum of the community. For this reason, they deserve particular attention when there is talk of human rights and technology. How to reduce poverty, how to overcome unemployment and inequality, how to lessen the migration to urban areas, how to increase the yield of rural occupations, and how to promote greater self-reliance are recurrent questions for Thailand's development process.
When the country first started to have national development plans in the early 1960s, rural areas were much neglected. The two decades that followed the First Development Plan (1961-1966) were biased in favour of infrastructural development, for example, roads, electricity, and dams, which tended to favour urban rather than outlying rural areas. Reappraisal came with the Fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1982-1986) ("The Fifth Plan"), with its accent on rural poverty eradication. The Fifth Plan acknowledged past failings, including a top-down development process which expected a trickle-down effect to take place from growth at the national level, the superimposition of welfare efforts on rural people without their participation, limited understanding by policy makers of rural problems, and the lack of basic necessities in rural areas. The Plan identified as special target areas villages ("backward rural areas") in 37 provinces for upgrading on a priority basis. The philosophy began to change with the enuciation of these precepts:
1. To be area specific, giving top priority to the high poverty concentration areas;
2. To develop high poverty concentration areas so that the people will have enough to eat and to clothe themselves. Basic public services will be made available in sufficient supplies;
3. To initiate people's self-help programmes;
4. To solve the poverty problems in all localities with emphasis on low-cost and self-help techniques;
5. To encourage the maximum participation by the people in solving their problems.32
Reduction of disease
Provision of food
These strategies were and are linked with the notion of integrated rural development, entailing cooperation between the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture, to encourage "rural industrialisation, the establishment and strengthening of agro-industrial complexes, the modernisation of agriculture, better integration of women in all stages of the production process, and employment for the rural population." 33
This has also led to the adoption of basic minimum needs indicators (Jor Por Tor), first experimented with in Korat province in north-eastern Thailand. Subsequently, this was extended to all parts of Thailand. As stated in a manual for training those involved in utilizing these indicators,34 the aim is to enable the population to know their basic minimum needs, to improve their quality of life, and to promote cooperation between governmental and non-governmental sectors, with popular participation. The approach seems to be based upon felt needs, with a predominance of objective rather than subjective elements. It is also influenced by the input-output model, with additional emphasis on performance and coverage. This blend is illustrated in table 3.35 The consumption, injection, and cultivation processes exemplify "performance," while the indicators may stipulate the percentage of the groups expected to be covered under the time phase allocated as a measure of "coverage."
Basically, a series of indicators, originally 32 in number and currently in the process of being expanded to 34, was established to be used in selected parts of the country (now extended to villages all over Thailand). These indicators are used to gauge the needs of villagers; this may then lead to mobilization of resources and services to respond to those needs, in terms of projects and budgets.36
The 32 indicators are divided into eight main groups, as follows:
A. The people eat nutritious food which is good for their health:1. Children up to five years of age do not suffer from malnutrition.
2. Children between 5 and 14 have sufficient food.
3. Pregnant women eat properly and the children born are not less than 3,000 grams in weight.
B. The people have appropriate shelter and environment:4. Houses are well built to last at least five years.
5. The family arranges the home in an orderly fashion.
6. The family has a toilet meeting sanitation standards.
7. The family has sufficient clean drinking water.
C. The people have access to basic social services:8. Children under one year old are vaccinated.
9. Children of school age have access to compulsory education.
10. Children of primary school age are vaccinated.
11. People between 14 and 50 are literate.
12. The family obtains news concerning livelihood, health, law.
13. Pregnant women are cared for before giving birth.
14. Pregnant women are cared for at the birth of the child and after the birth.
D. The people are secure in life and in property:15. The people are safe in life and in property.
E. The people can produce and consume food satisfactorily:16. The family grows crops on a rotational basis.
17. The family uses fertilizers.
18. The family prevents and eliminates insects affecting crops.
19. The family prevents epidemics among animals.
20. The family uses seeds and animals provided by officials.
F. The family can utilize family planning:21. Spouses have no more than two children and can use birth control as desired.
G. The people participate in the development process and choose their livelihood:22. The family is a unit established by its members to help each other.
23. The village participates in self-development.
24. The village participates in looking after common property.
25. The village participates in looking after cultural heritage.
26. The village protects natural resources.
27. The people use their right to vote within the democracy.
28. The village committee is able to plan and follow its plan (for development purposes).
H. The people develop their spirit:29. In the village, there is mutual bonding and help.
30. Family members practice a religious activity at least once a month.
31. Family members do not gamble and are not addicted to drugs.
32. The family does not spend excessively on traditional rites and rituals.
Technology has come in extremely handy to collate the data and mobilize help for rural people in relation to the above. Basically, two types of information are gathered: that collected by the heads of households, which is then synthesized by the subdistrict development committee and sent to the province; and that collected independently by the same committee as basic data concerning the village. These data are channelled to the provincial rural development centre and are computerized before being sent to Bangkok for further computerization at the national level. The data are used as means for preparing projects to meet the basic minimum needs of the villagers and for mobilizing resources to help them. Three types of situations may call for resources (including technology) as follows :37
1. The villagers' own resources, e.g. in planting vegetables.
2. The villagers' own resources coupled with those of the government, e.g. in setting up a credit scheme or fund in the village.
3. Governmental funds, e.g. basic welfare services.
As the actual use of these indicators is in the nascent stage, it is difficult to assess their true impact, subject to these observations. First, owing to the variety of questionnaires (at least four), which have to be synthesized and reduced to percentages, the system is complex. Second, despite the complexity, the data gathered are an invaluable source of information concerning the state of villages all over Thailand. Third, where there is a lack of certain basic necessities, the information has led to programmes and budgets to help raise the standards to meet the basic minimum needs. Some 70 per cent of the projects of this nature which were sent to the Ministry of the Interior for support have met with a favourable response.
Fourth, some provinces are adopting indicators other than the 32 mentioned, especially if their level of development is already high. In one province, an indicator has been adopted to assess land tenure, an issue not raised in the 32 indicators mentioned. This reflects the need to review the status quo and move towards more redistribution of wealth. But the officials concerned may be afraid that this type of indicator will raise expectations and invite rights advocacy. Fifth, the 32 indicators are still weak on various issues, for example, they do not cover broadly the interests of specific groups such as women, children, and the aged, particularly in relation to their legal rights and well-being.38
In practice, in spite of improvements in the livelihood of some villagers, others remain in a deprived position. The current land purchase and investment boom has also meant greater readiness by villagers to sell land for short-term benefits, thereby losing their means of self-reliance in the long run. Although the population growth has declined in recent years, demographic pressures continue to cause migration to urban areas and encroachment upon national forest land.
While well-intentioned, the rural development policies mentioned tend to be top-down in effect; policies and budgetary resources depend very much upon the Bangkok administration. This is compounded by the failure to decentralize power from the centre and devolve resources to local leaders. The dimension of human rights and technology, in this respect, can be broadened by reference to other issues such as agriculture, rural industrialization, and environmental concerns elaborated below.