OVERVIEW: Thailand is facing the challenges of a transition from lower- to upper-middle-income status. After decades of very rapid growth followed by more modest 5–6% growth after the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, Thailand achieved a per capita GNI of US $3670 by 2008, reduced its poverty rate to less than 10% and greatly extended coverage of social services. Infant mortality has been cut to only 13 per 1000, and 98% of the population has access to clean water and sanitation. The country‘s challenges are to accelerate productivity through: specialization; innovation and technological advances; improvements in the quality of education and workforce training; and investment in basic services and infrastructure, in order to compete successfully with other middle-income exporting countries. At the same time, in order for Thailand to ensure the necessary social cohesion, the growth process has to benefit the poor and other vulnerable groups and protect the environment. Thailand‘s efficient, transparent land administration system is a model for other countries. It has issued title deeds to large portions of the country‘s population, thus contributing to tenure security and developing a robust land market. However, the system has not reached many residents of the rapidly growing informal settlements in urban and peri-urban areas, nor has it addressed the rights of occupants of the country‘s forestland. Natural-resource degradation has occurred as a consequence of Thailand‘s rapid urbanization and industrialization. In addition to forest degradation, the country‘s water resources are poorly managed, unevenly distributed and increasingly polluted. A comprehensive water law and effective enforcement are needed to address issues of water allocation, fees for water use, and the authority of river basin committees. Similarly, legislation is needed to address the competition for control over forestland among conservation interests, forest communities and mining companies. Finally, land rights need to be addressed in the country‘s mining law and regulatory framework. All this must be accomplished to avoid natural-resource degradation becoming a serious impediment to Thailand‘s continued economic and social progress.
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