World Bank says poverty in Thailand rising amid slowing growth

Over 6.7 mil people have been classified as living in poverty in SE Asia’s 2nd-largest economy. (File pic)

BANGKOK: The number of people living in poverty in Thailand climbed in recent years, the World Bank said after releasing a report on inequality in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

The Thai poverty rate rose to 9.8% from 7.2% between 2015 and 2018, and the absolute number living in poverty advanced to more than 6.7 million from 4.85 million, the multilateral lender said in a statement.

“Recent poverty trends demonstrate that despite Thailand’s level of economic development, households are still vulnerable to shocks and weak economic conditions,” Birgit Hansl, the World Bank’s country manager for Thailand, said in the statement.

The report said Thailand’s gross domestic product growth rate has been lower than other large economies in the developing East Asia and Pacific region. It added that drought has affected farmers, already one of the poorest segments of society.

“To meet Thailand’s aspiration of achieving high-income status, Thai households will need better protection from income shocks such as ill-health, job-loss and natural disasters,” Hansl said. “It will be equally important to support the creation of more productive and higher-paying jobs.”

Thailand is the only nation in the Southeast Asian region to experience several increases in poverty since 2000, according to the statement. Over the longer term, the poverty rate declined from more than 65% in 1988 to less than 10% in 2018.

Thai officials have faced a range of challenges, from a strong currency to drought and most recently the coronavirus outbreak, which has hurt the economically crucial tourism sector.

A history of political unrest and military coups has also hampered the economy. The most recent military intervention was in 2014, led by then army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha. He ruled as the head of a junta before returning as premier after a disputed general election last year.