Poverty-stricken urban communities in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, are getting a new lease of life with the launch by Prime Minister Hun Sen of a new secure land tenure policy.
In remarks on 24 May at the launch of the new policy starting with the homes of 100 communities, Mr. Hun Sen said: “Why stop at 100 settlements? We propose to upgrade a further 100 settlements every year for the next five years, so that in the end, all of Phnom Penh's poor settlements will be improved and have land title.”
Phnom Penh currently has informal settlements in 550 locations - on open land, along roadsides, railway tracks, canals and rivers - where living conditions are deplorable. In a country ravaged by decades of war, political upheaval, forced evictions, unspeakable hardships and disgruntled communities, this initiative is a welcome relief.
The ceremony that was meant to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Urban Poor Development Fund launched instead the new slum upgrading initiative. More than 5,000 urban poor from 10 provincial cities, national and local government officials, NGOs, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, as well as community leaders from nine Asian and African countries, attended the ceremony.
The Cambodian initiative drew praise from Jockin Arputham, an active community leader in India and member of Slum Dwellers International, Somsook Boonyabancha of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights in Bangkok; Mr. Farouk Tebbal, chief of UN-HABITAT’s Shelter Branch and many others. Tebbal said that even though the intention was to “sell” the campaign and its beneficial attributes to stop forced evictions, they found that housing rights and secure policies were taking root very fast in Cambodia.
He said UN-HABITAT planned to emulate the Cambodian initiative in the implementation of the campaign in several countries in other regions. Governments, he added, had to regard poor people as an important resource that can contribute to improve the living conditions in their cities, rather than a problem for those cities.