The government should start to assess the economic cost of conflicts in the deep South in a more systematic way, with the participation of civil society organisations, Rangsit University's dean of the College of Social Innovation Sungsidh Piriyarangsan says.
Losses in terms of casualties and budgetary costs over the past decade in the insurgency have been relatively clear while the opportunity costs -- the loss of potential gain from other alternatives -- have not been included, he said.
According to Budget Bureau data, the government spent some five billion baht in the three southernmost provinces in 2004 and expenditure has jumped to 35 billion baht this year. The accumulated spending to deal with problems in the restive South amounted to 165 billion baht from 2004-2016.
"This is the wrong policy, similar to how the Thaksin Shinawatra administration conducted a war on drugs bringing about extrajudicial killings," said Mr Sungsidh.
Opportunity costs were seen in farming, commercial and education sectors while social costs such as trauma and mental handicaps among people have yet to be taken into account, said Mr Sungsidh on the second day of a seminar on impacts of conflicts in the far South co-organised by his university and the Asia Foundation.
"Weapons are not the solution to the southern problem as we have already seen there are no concrete signs of peace in the region yet. We need a new way of thinking and a new approach," said the economist.
Patrick Barron, The Asia Foundation's regional director on conflict and development, said the deep South has casualties similar to the Afghanistan conflict -- around 30 deaths per 100,000 people per annum which is considered endemic according to the World Health Organisation standard.
Using a security approach is very expensive in terms of money spent and damage that is likely to occur.
He cited economic impacts of the Aceh conflict during 1976-2005, which found costs reached US$10.7 billion, or 385.4 billion baht -- over twice the cost incurred by the tsunami that struck the Indonesian province.
"We need to calculate both damages and losses such as damages seen in the production sector in terms of destruction of rice fields and livestock killed while losses include costs to the economy due to unemployment and stolen private business assets," Mr Barron said.
He said he was hopeful the Thai government would consider expediting the study on economic impacts of the southern conflict. "In doing this, we should have a whole range of people discussing and trying to get a consensus on what areas and which indicators to include in checklists and adapt them to make sure they fit local contexts," he said.
Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre director of Justice Administrative Unit Kitti Sukakamhaeng told the Bangkok Post the government has already adapted an approach and agrees a macro economy strategy is needed to create jobs.