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close this bookThe Impact of Technology on Human Rights: Global Case-studies (UNU, 1993, 322 pages)
close this folder3. Technology and human rights: critical implications for Thailand
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHuman rights
View the documentTechnology
View the documentImplications
View the documentRural development
View the documentAgriculture
View the documentIndustrialization
View the documentUrbanization
View the documentEnvironmental concerns
View the documentThe socialization process
View the documentAssessment
View the documentAppendix 1
View the documentNotes


One of the most visible phenomena of Thailand's development is the growth of urban areas, with the concomitant migration of rural people to such localities and the rise of urban slums.70 This has been accompanied by congestion and pollution in city areas. Flooding has become commonplace, partly owing to subsidence of land caused by illegal extraction of subterranean water. The technology apparent in towns tends to revolve around the display of goods, the lines of cars, the rows of buildings, and the bright lights, which also contribute to social and environmental problems. Technology to help prevent pollution and regulate the growth of cities is a mirage given the disorderly sprawl, particularly in the Bangkok metropolis.

The concerns of urbanization are reflected in the current Sixth National Economic and Social Development Plan, but there remains the question of practical implementation. The plan adopts four main policies in relation to urban growth in Bangkok and beyond:71

1. Continue to accommodate the policy of decentralizing prosperity to the regions.

2. Strengthen the economic base and employment in urban areas to support a more systematic transition to industrialization and services for the entire national economy.

3. Strenghen and improve the efficiency and sufficiency of infrastructure services in urban areas and in new economic zones so as to increase their capabilities and their international commercial competitive position.

4. Reduce the government's role in investment in accordance with budgetary constraints by integrating fund mobilization efforts. Local authorities, state enterprises, and the private sector will share investment in infrastructure services more appropriately.

The targets are threefold:

- The Bangkok metropolis.
- Regional urban growth centres.
- The Eastern Seaboard subregion and other potential economic areas, such as several provinces in the south now identified as a potential Southern Seaboard for investment purposes.

The technology required by such planning concerns is, to a great extent, the provision of a basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, telephones, drainage, water, and more extensive public transport facilities. Concomitantly, it needs the support of the legal framework to curb excesses which may also be caused by other kinds of technology, e.g. legal sanctions against extraction of subterranean water, particularly by illegal drilling and pumps on housing estates. Urban areas also suffer from a lack of master plans concerning specific sectors that could deter overzealous investors and inhabitants from unplanned construction and other activities which may exert undue pressure on existing amenities. Bangkok is still waiting for a master plan along these lines, and the main river running through Bangkok - the Chao Phraya - is also dependent on such planning to limit water pollution through discharge of industrial and domestic wastes.

From the angle of this study, the most crucial challenge is perhaps in relation to slums and low-income settlement in urban areas. It is estimated that there are some 460 slums here with some 150,000 families at stake. Many are squatting on private and state land. Their mass organization has enabled them to enjoy a degree of bargaining power, and they have used this to assert that slum people have basic rights; particularly the right to remain on the land (even though it is not owned by them) until another piece of land is provided by the state for their habitation. There has also been an attempt to draft legislation to enable these settlements to register as juristic entities with basic rights, although this has not yet seen the light of day.

The current Sixth Plan identifies the problems of slum people as follows:

In particular the poor living in slums lack essential basic services. Even though the population classifiable as poor has declined from 11 per cent of the total Bangkok population in 1976 to 5-6 per cent at present, between 10 and 20 per cent living in overcrowded communities may be considered poor enough to warrant assistance in regard to infrastructure and social services. In providing adequate basic services to the urban poor, the responsibility for allocating funds should be shared between the central government and the local authorities.72

The Plan also identifies the following workplan for the period:73

- Construct 22,000 housing units for low-income groups and collect service charges.
- Upgrade 20,000 slum units.
- Encourage the private sector to participate in developing housing for the low-income group.

In practice, three efforts which are linked with the rights of slum people to decent shelter and the input of technology are currently visible:

1. Slum upgrading. This implies improving the habitat of existing slums. Technology on this front concerns access to infrastructure such as electricity and water, and improved habitation, e.g. housing and self-help schemes.

2. Slum relocation. This means shifting slum people from their original habitat to new locations. Here again there are problems of technological infrastructure and housing construction. In recent years, there have been complaints by slum dwellers that when landowners entice them to new sites, they are often deceived into thinking that the appropriate infrastructure will be provided on these sites.

3. Land-sharing. This experiment concerns the division of the land occupied by the slum dwellers in order to appease the claims of the landowner. The commercially viable part of the land is returned to the landowner for use as a commercial area, while (usually at the back of the same piece of land) the slum dwellers retreat to the less commercially viable part of the same plot. The slum dwellers may also buy part of the land from the landowner and then redistribute it among the dwellers. The most concrete example of this experiment is the Bangrak community, which set up a cooperative to buy a piece of land from Thai royalty, while returning a part of it to the latter. The type of technology required for this arrangement relates to the provision of the basic infrastructure and also the procurement and manufacture of the requisite building material. The key catalysts in this respect are the local authorities and the national housing agency, which need to be pressed to respond to the needs of the dwellers rather than treating them as squatters without any basic rights.

On another front, the mistakes of past urbanization can be avoided if new towns arise with proper planning and zoning. A crucial area of concern today is the Eastern Seaboard, where much industrialization and urbanization are expected in the future. With proper planning and resource allocation, one may adopt preventive strategies to prevent the negative impact of development on people and the surroundings. The blend of industries, urban construction, people's needs, and environmental concerns are exemplified by the planning for the Map Ta Phut area:74

- The Map Ta Phut area will be developed into an area for major industries, with a deep-sea port adjacent to the industrial zone to promote effective bulk cargo-handling services.

- The same area will have an industrial estate and community.

- There will be a railway line linking the Map Ta Phut industrial estate with neighbouring towns.

- Communications and electricity will be installed for the major industries and the community there.

- There will be community housing development for workers moving into the
Map Ta Phut area with their families.

- Educational and social development will go hand in hand with the community, thereby promoting the safety of life and property there.

As is often the case in Thailand, something that is well planned is not necessarily realized in practice where there are divergent interests at stake. Likewise, urbanization tends to suffer from those wishing to make easy money without correlative social responsibilities for the rest of the community.