Many Cambodians will be able to own property for the first time since the Khmer
Rouge eliminated all land titles in the 1970s. A five-year project will begin in
June and aims to issue secure land tenure for one million people.
bulk of the cost will be funded by the World Bank under a $24.3 million soft
loan. The nationwide project will attempt to introduce a fair system of land
registration to help the poor in Phnom Penh and ten other provinces. Property
ownership is considered a crucial part of the overall rehabilitation of
"There will be many, many opportunities for money-making as a
direct result of having a full freehold title," said Peter Swan from UN-Habitat
at an April 10 workshop on providing secure tenure for the urban
One concern was whether the practice could make vulnerable
low-income Cambodians worse off. Recent attempts by the city's municipality to
provide land outside the city to those affected by Phnom Penh's squatter fires
met heavy criticism, after the inhabitants were removed from the area they lived
in for years. That meant they lost not only their homes, but often their jobs
and access to basic services.
"The poor have very rational reasons for
wanting to live in urban, built-up areas," said Geoffrey Payne of the UK's
Department for International Development (DfID). Chief among these were the
ability to earn a living, access to health, and schooling.
is meant to give low-income people collateral, improve the urban environment and
attract investment. However a DfID study presented at the workshop refuted the
notion that giving land on the city's periphery to the poor was good
"Our research shows that, unfortunately, this approach is not
addressing the needs of the city, or the needs of the poor as they themselves
see them," said Payne.
As part of the research his team interviewed 700
households in two weeks. The study found that relocation not only increases
poverty, it also deprives the city of a workforce that provides essential
services in hotels, the leisure industry and transportation. All of these are
important to attract tourists and their cash, a major priority for the
The study also found that few of the relocated urban poor
were using their land as collateral; a significant number had in fact moved back
to the city. A better solution that had worked elsewhere, DfID suggested, might
be to grant temporary leases that would also give the authorities time to
develop better alternatives while the city expands.
poor are quite happy to accept temporary titles," said
UN-Habitat's Swan agreed that it was important to give land tenure
to people in the places they had lived until they chose to move
"Land and housing is fundamentally a socio-economic issue,"
said Swan. "It [just] looks like a spatial and physical issue."
of the municipality's cabinet, Mann Chhoeun, said the authority had decided to
change its squatter relocation strategy.
"In the future, we will start
land sharing at the Boeung Kak area [a lake in Phnom Penh] instead of relocating
the squatters," he said. "We may let them stay on the site and allow them to
However, those displaced by the recent rooftop fire and earlier
riverside fires, said Chhoeun, would not be allowed to return. A new Khmer-style
roof is planned for the rooftop, while a public park will replace the remains of
the Bassac community.
Swan added that while the issues raised by the DfID
study were important, one aspect of the municipal policy was
"In the 25 to 30 years that I've been working in this region, I
haven't seen too many municipalities that were willing to provide land to people
who were being removed from various locations," he said.
also agreed that a strong campaign was needed to raise awareness among the poor
about the prospects of land titling. What was also required was further auditing
of land, since even many professionals were unsure whether land was private or
"I suggest that after the workshop, let us find out the zoning
for Phnom Penh," said Chhoeun. "That will be useful to divide the areas into
trading zones and accommodation areas."