During the week of World Habitat Day 3-8 October UN-HABITAT launched its Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and Cities without Slums programme in Thailand.
The first of these events was the celebration of the Baan Mankong Programme that was engaged in 2003 under the auspices of the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and in conformity to its principles. In preparation of the official launch, model homes were built in Sanam Luang to show how the programme would bring new benefits.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra and Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT celebrated World Habitat Day on 4 October at an event that drew more than 10,000 people representing communities from different settlements in Thailand as well as 150 representatives from 14 Asian countries and South Africa. The presence of representatives from various countries gave the event an international dimension.
“At a time when other countries are grappling with the huge challenge of slums, Thailand is showing not only what needs to be done but also how it should be done,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said.
“You are showing that a combination of strong political will, supported by competent and dedicated institutions such as CODI (the Community Organizations Development Institute), and the active participation of local authorities can enable entire communities to attain the Millennium Development Goals”. She stressed that UN-HABITAT, through its Global Campaign for Secure Tenure is “fighting poverty, not the poor”. She also commended the Government for refraining from violent evictions.
Prime Minister Thaksin reiterated the will of his government to support the Baan Mankong Programme and said all slum dwellers would be provided with decent shelter and security of tenure in the shortest term possible, well before the end of the decade. He stressed the need for the poor to be actors in the process and to join hands with the Government.
The following day, a special World Habitat Day ceremony was celebrated at the United Nations centre in Bangkok co-chaired by Mrs. Tibaijuka and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Surakiart Sathirathai, and Mr. Kim Hak-Su, Executive Director of UNESCAP. The ceremony gave Mrs. Tibaijuka the opportunity to insist on the need to achieve the target of the Millennium Development Goal on slums, indicating that it should be understood as not only improving the lives of slums dwellers, but also offering alternatives to the formation of new slums in the future in the perspective of further urban growth.
"After the ceremony Mrs. Tibaijuka received a petition from a delegation of slum dwellers drawing attention to their plight, and saying they hoped to be granted security of tenure under the Baan Mankong Programme.She then visited the Bang Boa community during a field trip and discussed with community representatives. The community lives on the banks of a canal in precarious conditions. Their settlement is being upgraded under the Baan Mankong programme.
The Minister of Social Development and Social Security Mr. Watana Muangsook, then opened seminar on “Partnerships for city-wide slum upgrading” at which access to land and evictions where debated. Before leaving the country, the UN-HABITAT delegation visited the province of Phang Nga to see at first hand the agency’s local tsunami relief programme. These visits allowed participants, including foreign delegations to interact with communities and learn from the Thai experience.
The Baan Mankong Program channels government funds, in the form of infrastructure subsidies and soft housing loans, directly to poor communities, together with local collaborations for land tenure security negotiations and arrangements. Communities then plan and carry out improvements to their housing, environment and basic services and decide collectively the allocation of financial resources. Instead of directly delivering housing units to individual poor families, the Baan Mankong Program ("Secure housing" in Thai) puts Thailand's slum communities, and their networks, at the centre of a long-term, comprehensive process for the development of solutions to problems of land and housing in Thai cities.
As part of this unconventional program, which is being implemented by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, poor communities work in close collaboration with their local governments, professionals, architects, universities and NGOs to survey all the communities in their cities and then plan an upgrading process which covers all the communities over the next three to four years. Once these city-wide plans are finalized, CODI channels the budget (both infrastructure subsidies and housing loans) directly to the communities. This housing experiment in Thailand is the result of a process which has been developing over the past ten years, starting with the building of large-scale community savings and credit activities, then the formation and strengthening of large-scale networks of poor communities, and finally to using these people's managerial skills to deal with housing problems at a much larger scale.
It is acknowledged that the Baan Mankong Program is only possible with the commitment of the central government to allow people to be the core actors and to decentralize the solution-finding process to cities. In August 2005, the Thai Government approved a 4-year plan to improve slum communities and develop housing in 200 cities in the country with about US$ 240 million subsidy from the government budget. As such, the program has become an important large-scale implementation and learning experience for governments, housing activists, NGOs, bilateral and multi-lateral aid institutions and community federations.