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Massive redevelopment for Phnom Penh slums

Massive redevelopment for Phnom Penh slums

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."


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