EARTH Thailand

Learning from Pollution Campaign Experiences in Japan

Paper prepared for the fifth Asian Public Intellectuals Workshop

on the theme “Are We Up to the Challenge? Current Crises and the Asian Intellectual Community.”

Phuket, Thailand.

November 26-30, 2006

By Penchom Saetang


This study was conducted between March to June 2006 in Japan. The topic was chosen with personal interest as Thailand’s industrial development pattern has closely imitated Japan’s. At the same time, the Japanese government and Japanese corporations have interestingly roles in and influence on Thailand’s transformation from an agricultural-based to industrial-based economy. This is seen clearly in development of the Eastern Seaboard Development program (ESB) in the mid-1980s.The Thai government through the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) designed the ESB Program by duplicating from some industrial zones in Japan in the belief that it would shortcut Thailand into a Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) in Asia. After it began life in the Fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1981-1986), the ESB has become the biggest industrial development program in Thailand with over 400,000 million bath (US$16,000million:1995) of investments in the first phase (1981-1994). The targeted area covers three strategic coastal provinces in eastern region –Rayong, Chonburi and Chachoengsao. According to the ESB plan, the Map Ta Phut area in Rayong province is designated to be the heavy industrial zone for petroleum refinery, petrochemical, iron and steel, and coal power plants. The construction of a huge industrial estate along with industrial deep seaports started in late1980sto facilitate the foreign investment inflows.

The ESB pattern is found in many areas of Japan i.e. Chiba at the western coast of Tokyo Bay, Yokkaichi and Nagoya in southern Honshu Island, Kobe and Osaka Bay in southwestern Honshu Island, Kitakyushu in northern Kyushu Island, and Minamata in southern Kyushu. Industrial operation in these areas has gone farther in parallel with so many rampant pollution problems, including severe pollution-related diseases which broke out in many places in Japan between the 1950sandthe 1970s.

This retrospective study which explores the history of Japan’s pollution problems and anti-pollution movements of citizens has been conducted with the expectation on the lessons it can provide NGOs and relevant groups in re-examining and re-vitalizing anti-pollution campaigns in Thailand. It is a good start in building a closer connection between Japanese and Thai public interest organizations working on environmental protection and contribute towards a better society.

Although experiences of pollution problems caused by heavy industries in Japan have occurred decades ahead of those in Thailand, and the present social and environmental context much different from what it was in the past, there are still valuable lessons from the study. Spirit, thought and experiences of those who support social and environmental justice are never out of date. The environmental crimes and cruel exploitation committed by business corporations with the collusion of Government bodies from the days of Minamata disease outbreak in Japan to the Map Ta Phut syndrome in Thailand have stark similarities. Learning experiences from the Japanese citizen movement and developing solidarity among public interest groups will bring about a stronger network across-border in protecting and building towards the common society-well being and sustainability.

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