For the eight month old coalition government of Thailand, led  by ex-army commander Prayut Chan-o-cha, the year 2020 was going to be a crucial one, owing to the country’s current turbulent political and economic state after their first election held last year in the shadow of 2014s coup d’état, toppling the Pheu Thai government.

It now appears to be an exceptionally difficult time for the Thai government to steer its country through as it faces the global Covid19 pandemic, severe droughts, and raging wildfires.

With the first recorded confirmed case of COVID-19 outside China was in Thailand, the government lapsed in taking restrictive measures, thereby recording one of the highest cases of Covid19 from the region. Thailand has been hit hard after suspension of world travel, where it is mainly dependent on exports, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the country’s GDP and tourism sector accounts for one fifth of its national income.

An aerial view of a fire ravaging a forest in Chiang Mai last month. Picture courtesy of Chiang Mai Volunteer Drone Team

Thailand is facing one of the worst droughts in decades, adding more stress to the country’s already struggling economy and to its agricultural sector.

According to Alan Basist, and American climatologist, who co-wrote a report for Eyes on Earth, a water resources monitor, one of the major reasons for the drought is due to China limiting Mekong River’s flow downstream to the country. He says, “The satellite data doesn’t lie, and there was plenty of water in the Tibetan Plateau, even as countries like Cambodia and Thailand were under extreme duress. There was just a huge volume of water that was being held back in China”.

The nation is also facing one of their worst wildfires in decades. The government has deployed 80 army men and several firefighters who have been risking their lives amidst the pandemic to contain the fires which has been raging since the middle of March in Northern region of the country.

This aerial handout photo taken on March 18, 2020 and released by Thai volunteer group Jit Arsa shows smoke rising from fires in Mae Rim district in northern Chiang Mai province, where the blazes have severely impacted air quality. (AFP PHOTO / JIT ARSA)

So far, 4 people have died and many tribal and forest dwellers displaced. Apart from this, the fire has also destroyed native flora and fauna, including indigenous endangered species, as it rages through national parks and sanctuaries near Chiang Mai.

While the government and people in the cities blame the local tribal and agricultural farmers for starting the wildfires with traditional slash and burn techniques, which is deemed punishable as per their zero burning policy, the farmers and forest dwellers disagree.

According to Bangkok Post, the village community leaders and representatives said that their livelihood comes from the forest, and that they would never destroy their homes. They also blame the government and authorities for these forest fires, which they say is due to excessive fuel from dead trees and foliage which piles up on forest floor ever since the zero burning policy has come into place.

Thai soldiers in the forest to detect fires. IMAGE: Chiang Mai One.

Nonetheless, air quality has reached “critical levels” across the North of the country for weeks now, which has further deepened the rift between city and forest dwellers.

In the thick of this grave global pandemic, the drought, fires and the terrible air quality, it has become quite the challenge for Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government to maintain its economy and political situation under control all the more now.


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