The escalation in global food and fuel prices is placing working-class and poorer communities in Thailand under increasing pressure as incomes fail to keep pace. Observers are pessimistic about the months ahead.
LIfe is becoming less idyllic in Thailand as prices rise
In the Bangkok inner city working class area of Klong Toey economic pressures on the community are increasing. Fuel and food prices continue to rise as global prices for oil reach near record highs.
Inflation in Thailand is already at a 10-year high. Local rice prices have doubled, adding to the burden of families for which rice is the main staple.
The central bank is already marking Thailand’s growth rate down for the year as people cut back on spending, and department stores and malls report lower sales.
Few signs of improvement
In the morning market, local shopkeepers are beginning another day. Their economic situation has also deteriorated in recent months, with few signs of improvement on the horizon.
Mrs Lasalin, who sells magazines and newspapers, says that political protests and uncertainties mean that the government is paying more attention to its survival than to the needs of the local people.
Also, she complains, everything is becoming more expensive and people are buying fewer magazines.
Schools too expensive
In Klong Toey, where many earn little more than the equivalent of 150 US dollars a month the struggle can be grim. Father Joe Maier is the director of a community health and welfare centre. He says the fact that there are more and more children on the streets is evidence of economic deterioration as parents can no longer afford schooling.
“There are more kids coming to us, there are more kids on the streets, there are more kids who can’t go to school -- the price of rice is unbelievable. People are used to salaries of 4,000 baht but now that salary is worth 3,000 baht at the most so they’ve got to cut corners because they’ve got to eat.”
The community centre has stepped up its spending to help more families send their children to school -- it has also even started paying for the uniforms but Father Meier is worried.
“Oh Lord, oh Lord, I don’t know what we can do,” he says, “we can keep feeding kids and we can still teach them in school -- we’re a place of hope and joy -- hope no matter what. We’ll carry on. It’s a lot more drastic than it was three months ago and if you come back three months from now it’s going to be much, much worse.”
More and more problems
Nitaya Pakkayaka who works at the centre tells a tragic story about one local family: “They had a father who committed suicide drinking a poison because he had two daughters who went to the school and he didn’t have the money to pay the school fees and his wife ran away because she didn’t want to take any responsibility. These problems are happening more and more in Klong Toey.”
Not only in Klong Toey. Sompob Manarangsan, a political economist at Chulalongkorn University, warned that these problems were widespread across Thai society. Taxi drivers and others have already staged protests against the increases in fuel prices and Sompob thinks such protests will only proliferate.
“The economic situation is much more serious,” said Sompob. “We can see that the people are going to rise up more and more -- not only in the urban areas but also in the rural ones. They need to relieve the cost of living otherwise I don't think the government can handle the situation.”
The Thai government recently launched a program of coupons for the poor. But many non-government aid organizations are sceptical that those hit hardest by the rising prices will benefit. They say that only lower prices and inflation will ease the burdens. But for the moment there are no such signs on the horizon.