Mekong Eye

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To dig or not to dig: The controversy surrounding Thailand’s mega canal

Belt and Road

Mega-development, mega-devastation or both? A massive canal proposed through Southern Thailand’s biodiversity hotspots has many questioning Thailand’s commitment to sustainability.

Tapirs in Thailand’s Banthad Wildlife Sanctuary are among the country's critically endangered species and on IUCN's Red List. They are one of a number of threatened and endangered species, whose habitat along the proposed Thai Canal route would be devastated should the mega-project proceed. Credit: Supasek Opithaporn


June 22, 2020

For centuries promoters of maritime commerce have proposed a canal across the Kra Isthmus in Southern Thailand. The proposal has gained renewed interest of late as growing congestion within the Straits of Malacca is creating a bottleneck for regional and global shipping. A Thai Canal would not only provide relief, but reduce sailing time through Southeast Asia by two-three days. The proposed canal’s route, however, is feared to generate considerable environmental and social devastation, especially to critical habitat for endangered wildlife on both coasts and in protected areas within one of the world’s biological diversity hotspots. With the help of Chinese interests in Thailand, the project has gained sufficient traction for Thailand’s Parliament to form a committee to evaluate the canal’s feasibility.

With support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, award-winning journalist Anoontawas Bootin traveled with camera and backpack along the canal’s 135km proposed route, capturing viewpoints from communities to be impacted now that money is flowing into the region to promote the project. Anoontawas produced a three-part series for Thai PBS, which has been combined and edited into this single feature for international audiences.


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