A UN study, the largest ever made of global urban conditions, predicted that 2 billion
people will be living in urban slums within 30 years, reported UN Habitat, a human
resettlement agency. At least 1 billion people already live in such settlements.
One of the crumbling buildings in Dey Krahom on Samdech Sothearos Blvd with 1,465 households. It will be demolished for new public housing units and private development.
Phnom Penh, one of the case studies in the 2003 The Challenge of Slums, was found
to have at least 230,000 people living in substandard housing such as flooded and
dilapidated buildings. It predicted those settlements would expand without intervention.
From a global perspective, the UN said that governments' unwillingness or inability
to address the problem was a root cause fueling the growth of slums.
"Slums are the product of failed policies, bad governance, corruption and lack
of political will," the report states. "Very few countries have recognized
this critical situation and very little effort is going into providing jobs or services."
As poverty rapidly shifts from the countryside to cities, the global urban population
is predicted to double over the next two decades from 2.5 billion to 5 billion. Almost
all of the increase will be in developing countries and rural populations are expected
to begin declining after 2020.
In Cambodia, where about 85 percent of the population is rural, efforts to create
jobs and implement urban land planning are aimed at avoiding a major housing crisis
in the future, said urban planners.
After the Khmer Rogue regime, land was reclaimed haphazardly, often with displaced
people settling wherever they could find space.
Now, as people from the provinces come to Phnom Penh to work in the expanding service,
manufacturing and construction sectors, they often end up living in unhealthy and
insecure settlements due to a lack of affordable housing. Cambodia also lacks government
support such as a ministry of housing, laws to integrate informal settlements and
public housing finance.
A family in Borei Keila, one of 1776 households who will be moving into one of the ten apartment buildings scheduled to be built on the site.
Sok Visol, manager of the Urban Poor Development Fund (UPDF), said the solutions
to the city's 550 or so informal settlements must come from the communities themselves
which know the problem - and possible remedies - first-hand.
"It's difficult for outsiders to get information on the urban poor by talking
to politicians [or] NGOs," he said. "The people in the communities know
their problems and can work on their own solutions."
Visol asserted that large government handouts would be unnecessary if the landless
received property titles. "People can upgrade themselves, but they need land
security," he said.
The first test is underway at Ros Reay, a community of 72 tightly packed homes just
behind the French Embassy near Boeung Kak Lake.
After being chosen for the project, Ros Reay residents surveyed their settlement,
decided on necessary improvements and drew up a budget. With $500 of cash contributions
from the community, and an $11,500 grant from UPDF, residents worked day and night
to lay sewage and drainage pipes, pave lanes, plant trees, repair fences and paint
houses from March until May 2003.
UPDF said Ros Reay is Phnom Penh's first experiment in "100 percent people-planned
and people-constructed" housing improvements. The organization, a joint-initiative
between the municipality, the Solidarity and Urban Poor Foundation (SUPF) and the
Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), offered it as a model for further in-city
If it is successful, the government will likely proceed with resettling hundreds
of other communities now plagued by disease and poverty. Once in full swing, the
initiative will resettle about 100 settlements each year, officials said. That would
eventually affect hundreds of thousands of people now living in slum communities.
The redevelopment will be one of hundreds planned by the governent to resettle slum communities.
One of the first will be Borei Keila, the crumbling apartment buildings near the
Olympic Stadium built in the 1960s. It is one of five pilot projects in a 'land sharing'
redevelopment strategy to reclaim occupied land for housing and public or private
development. Although existing residents often receive less space, they will become
legal owners of their new residences.
In Borei Keila, with 1,776 families, the government has designated 30 percent of
the land for community housing. Seventy percent will be allocated for a new stadium
for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.
Mann Chhoeurn, municipal cabinet chief, recently unveiled the plans for the new apartment
complexes scheduled to break ground this January. He explained that there will be
ten six-story buildings, with each apartment measuring 4 by 12 meters.
"The key is that we are now working together with the communities and community-based
organizations and NGOs. There will be no more evictions," he said.
On May 24, 2003, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the government had scrapped
its policy of evicting and relocating communities from settlements. The practice
often pushed relocated communities into more desperate poverty because many new sites
lacked proper infrastructure, clean water or access to schools, clinics and employment.
For the people in Borei Keila, as in many other settlements in the city, the change
in policy is a relief since the government had been trying to evict them from the
land for years.
"Now there is real activity for poverty reduction and we will negotiate with
the poor for volunteer relocations if needed, not evictions," said Chhoeurn.
The new plan emphasizes "in-city upgrading" to redevelop land for housing,
as well as commercial and public use. Borei Keila will likely serve as the new model.
In the narrow, littered lanes of that squatter community, wooden huts lean against
each other. Visibly malnourished children wander about the muddy lanes.
Many people in Borei Keila were reluctant to talk about the development plans. Some
people simply pointed to the posters tacked up on a store wall showing plans for
the new development: immaculate paved roads lined with trees in front of the new
buildings and a single luxury car parked at the curb.
Hun Narom, the community's financial manager, said that she was still waiting to
hear about temporary housing. But she was very happy that the plans specified residents
will finally receive ownership of the land.
"The government used to ignore me," she said. "But now they accept
that I am a community leader here."
Narom bought the land years ago from a family living in Borei Keila. She has no legal
documents for the property. Now she will not only receive a land title, she explained,
but the government will issue her an identification card that recognizes her and
other residents as proper citizens for the first time.
In the past when Narom would ask police to confront crime problems, she was ignored.
Now she believes, as a landowner, she will convince the authorities to listen to
Keng Sedth, an elected community leader, moved to Borei Keila in 1994. He submitted
a number of proposals to the government before a final plan was approved.
"This community cannot stay alone," he says. "We need a partner."
He said that the community will receive papers declaring their right to live in the
buildings after about a month, and full ownership will follow after five years of
residing on the premises.
Sedth said he has faith in the project because it is not strictly a government project.
The UN Habitat and UPDF are also playing major roles in the process.
"Why do I work hard on this?" said Sedth. "Why does [Hun Narom] work
so hard? We get no salary for this, but we believe it can be better than this."