Asean Economic Community
Open market under AEC may open door to disease and waste: experts
Participants of the fifth Thai Environment Health Conference voiced concerns that once the AEC kicks off in 2015, Thailand will face more environmental issues and related health problems as the free flow of labour could lead to crowded living conditions and problems with infrastructure.With the Pollution Control Department (PCD) expecting garbage and polluted water to double, the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) has urged the government to put in place measures to control waste.
Dr Narong Saiwong, Department of Health deputy chief, said the free flow of labour could create crowded living conditions for which the existing infrastructure is insufficient, causing sanitation issues and health problems.
The migration of labour, partially motivated by the recently implemented Bt300 daily wage, could lead to disease outbreaks in Asean countries. Hence public and private agencies - especially those located near borders - should prepare measures such as supplies of clean water, proper wastewater treatment, disposal of household waste and garbage, and food safety.
He added that the already implemented measures on environmental health (2012-2016) needed to focus more on the management of air and water quality, as well as sanitation, garbage and waste disposal, he said.
PCD chief Wichien Jungrungreung said his department had estimated that once the AEC starts, the problem of garbage, wastewater and air quality could worsen in Thailand because manufacturers will start producing goods for a much larger market.
This will be combined with hazardous waste caused by cheap and substandard goods that are imported to Thailand, as quality checks will become less strict to promote trade.
He said the Kingdom already produced 700,000 tonnes of hazardous waste per year and countries that have stricter laws might smuggle such waste to less strict countries such as Thailand.
The rising number of tourists might also lead to more waste and water pollution, especially since Thailand is only able to dispose of about 36 per cent of its garbage properly and 20 per cent of its wastewater, he added.
FTI executive Korakot Phadungjit, meanwhile, said an inefficient transport system could also pose a problem because if goods ended up having to be stored for too long, they might end up having to be discarded, adding to the garbage problem. Thus, he said, the government should be ready to prevent such a scenario.
He added that the Bt300 wage would push manufacturers towards technology-based industries, helping Thai workers to improve their skills, as foreign investors running heavy industries would possibly move to countries with lower costs.
"However, if these heavy industries move to a neighbouring country, such proximity could still affect the Thai environment and health, so the government should focus on the reinforcement of law," he added.