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Phnom Penh’s slums swell in 2012

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An elderly woman walks down a stairwell at a dilapidated Bassac apartment block, known locally as ‘The Building’, in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

The number of slum-dwellers in Phnom Penh grew by nearly 25 per cent last year to more than 100,000 people, according to a government report released yesterday.

By the end of the year, 105,771 people lived in informal settlements, compared with 85,807 at the start of 2012.

Slum locations — defined by the government as informal settlements erected on state public land — increased by eight to 511.

In total, just over 25,100 families reside in Phnom Penh’s slums.

The figures were published in the Phnom Penh Municipality’s annual report.

Buried amid statistics on crime and real estate and delivered without context, they hint at the rapidly changing dynamics of the Kingdom’s largest city and suggest city authorities may be ill-equipped to deal with the fallout.

A 2009 circular on resolving the city’s slum problems through relocation and compensation has been poorly applied, the report admits, causing “difficulties with the development of the city”.

Meanwhile, in spite of a heavy push to title the rural population, the initiative has all but passed over the capital, with a scant 864 titles issued during the entire year.

Observers have warned that a rapidly growing urban population, coupled with land insecurity, threaten to undermine stability.

Both the government report and widely publicised data from rights groups note that protests have risen markedly in the past few years.

As land disputes continue in rural areas, the lack of resolution will likely continue pushing migrants into the city, creating a feedback loop of disputes, says Nicolas Agostini, a technical adviser at the rights group Adhoc, which last week released its own report on land issues.

“For the coming years, we are afraid the problem can only get worse unless the government starts to take care of land tenure,” he says.

Although it is growing, Agostini points out that much of the capital’s slum population has been living on the land since before the Land Law was passed in 2001 — thus entitling them to possession rights.

Many of the residents of Thmor Kol village, an embattled community abutting the Phnom Penh International Airport, have been there for decades, representative Chray Nim says.

Others, like herself, bought property from previous owners through contracts that were signed off on by the same district authorities who now threaten them with eviction.

“Why, when we bought the land from each other, did the authorities sign the documents? Now they claim it is state public land and want to evict us and not compensate us,” she said.

“When people question why the government wants the land to expand the airport, why they refuse to give compensation, we hear no answer. So we continue to protest.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Chhay Channyda at channyda.chhay@phnompenhpost.com

Abby Seiff at abby.seiff@phnompenhpost.com

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