SUN-BAKED rubbish and raw sewage amalgamate in the lane that runs past Prak Sophea’s wall-less dwelling, threatening to spill into the space she has been forced to occupy with another family since being evicted on Sunday from temporary housing in Prampi Makara district.
“I cannot bear the bad sanitation, especially when it is raining,” she said. She explained that poor drainage results in flooding that sends sewage into her new home.
The 49-year-old widow, who learned in 1998 that she was HIV-positive, had been occupying a ground-floor room in a dilapidated building in the district’s Borei Keila community since June 2009, waiting for City Hall and a private development company to give her permanent housing. The company, Phanimex, has been tasked with providing on-site relocation units for 11 HIV-affected families, including Prak Sophea’s, who were evicted from prime real estate in front of the Ministry of Tourism building last year to make way for a public garden.
Unlike the 41 families who were trucked out to Tuol Sambo village in Dangkor district in June and July 2009, these 11 families were allowed to stay in Borei Keila because they produced documents proving they had been renting their homes since 2000 or before.
On Sunday, however, Prak Sophea was informed by her landlord that she would need to vacate the premises because Som Sovann, the governor of Prampi Makara district, had issued an order declaring that all property-owners had to personally occupy their homes rather than rent them out in order to be eligible to receive apartments in one of the new Phanimex-built condominiums, she said.
As Prak Sophea waited to be assigned permanent housing, the Ministry of Tourism gave her US$30 per month to cover rent for three months, after which district officials stepped in with a $20-per-month stipend that she received until last December. Though no financial assistance has been forthcoming since then, she had been able to make enough money selling snacks outside a local school to afford the ground-floor unit.
Five of the 11 families who were evicted last summer have already received permanent housing. The other six, however, have been left in limbo as they wait to be assigned rooms.
Prak Sophea, whose husband died of AIDS in 2000, is squatting in the shell of a gutted apartment, where she lives without running water, electricity or a toilet. Leaking drains and human waste drip down from the apartments above, splashing off a small lean-to she has set up to deflect
She said that since being kicked out of her temporary housing, she has been constantly worried for her safety, health and well-being.
“I cannot go to do my business because I am afraid someone will steal my property while I am away, and I am worried about my health because of the lack of sanitation,” she said. She added that she had also found it difficult to sleep.
“The authorities always tell us to ‘please wait’, but they change their mind all the time ... before, they promised to give us apartments on the fourth floor, then the fifth floor and then the sixth floor,” she said, referring to the block of buildings constructed by Phanimex. “We don’t know which promise is real or how long we will have to wait.”
Som Sovann said this week that five of the 11 families had received permanent housing because they had presented “complete” documents, unlike Prak Sophea and the others.
“The other six families did not receive an apartment because they have a complicated problem and do not have enough documents yet.... When they have enough documents we will give an apartment to them,” he said. He declined to specify which documents the six families lack.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said he would continue to help the remaining families and ensure that they receive apartments, though he added that they would need to wait.
“We will not abandon them, we have sent a request to [Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema] already ... but we need time,” he added.
Phanimex officials could not be reached for comment this week.
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said City Hall’s response to the problem had been insufficient, and urged officials to place any families who can prove they are eligible for housing in the community on a fast-track list for new apartments.
“The authorities should be giving first priority to these villagers ... because their houses have already been torn down and they do not have the money to rent a room any longer,” he said.
Manfred Hornung, a legal adviser for Licadho, said the families had been promised permanent housing by September 2009, and called on officials to give them a written notice specifying the apartments to which they would be assigned.
“The major problem for the families is they have received contradicting information from the authorities since last June,” he said, and warned that any further delay could “deteriorate their condition”.
Licadho consultant Mathieu Pellerin also said the process of finding housing for the families should be expedited.
“It is long overdue that the municipality do the right thing with these families who have been promised new apartments for months now,” he said.