Pollution verdict should make other
A recent court decision to award compensation to a village affected by lead contamination must become a benchmark to deter corporate destruction of the environmentThe Supreme Administrative Court's decision to award the residents of Kanchanaburi province's Lower Klity village compensation amounting to Bt3.87 million from the Pollution Control Department (PCD) for damage caused by lead poisoning from a nearby mining operation is welcome news indeed.
The compensation itself will unlikely repair the damage that has accumulated over the last 14 years. But it should raise public awareness over the issue of industrial pollution and its consequences on people and the environment.
Klity, of course, is not an isolated case. There are many other cases around the country in which local communities are being very adversely affected by unchecked industrialisation.
The lead contamination in Lower Klity Creek was caused by human carelessness, and the pollution has affected the traditional way of life of the villagers. These people have been there for generations and many of them rely on the natural environment for their livelihood. The waterway that was contaminated was a source of food for some. People were used to catching fish and gathering herbs and vegetables nearby. Their children played in the water. Still, the mining company recklessly and irresponsibly dumped lead in the creek without considering the consequences on either the environment or the residents.
There are so many similar cases in which companies and factories are careless or selfish at the expense of nearby communities and consumers in general. Their only goal is to extract profit from the environment, and they deliberately neglect to provide safety measures to minimise the negative effects of their operations. Some factories fail to install adequate waste-treatment facilities because they don't want to spend the money, even though they are legally required to do so.
The consequences of such carelessness can be tragic. In Klity, fish started to die and people in the village began to get sick. When the symptoms started to appear, they didn't know the cause or the source of their illness. They were certainly not aware that they were highly vulnerable to the hazardous effects of lead contamination.
The authorities tried to fix the problem by offering to move the villagers elsewhere, but evacuation was not a real solution to the problem. The root cause of the problem is that the company acted irresponsibly and illegally. The authorities should have shut it down at the earliest sign that things were not right.
The Klity case should be an exemplar in reaffirming the necessity of embracing local communities in decision-making processes instead of leaving residents unaware of what is happening to and around them. No private firm can prosper if it doesn't have the consent of the local community, and it cannot survive if it has no respect for the environment.
Part of the problem in Thailand is that there is no effective law enforcement. There is no real will to govern industries and rein them in when they have a negative impact on people and the environment. Generally, the authorities fail to strictly enforce the law and compel companies to follow environment-related laws.
Also, there is no effective cooperation between the various government agencies, which has led to negative effects on health, the environment and sources of food such as fish and plants.
The Supreme Administrative Court has ordered the PCD to pay Bt3,872,000 to 22 victims of lead contamination - about Bt176,000 each. This compares to the Administrative Court's earlier demand for Bt743,226, Bt33,783 to each. Regardless, the amount can never repair the damage to health that has already been done. Many villagers have lost opportunities after years of struggling against illness. It will take years to remove all the lead contamination from the area and restore Klity Creek to its former condition. How many of the citizens will be around to see that day?