After the retreat of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh began to receive an influx of migrants from rural areas who settled in the city's mushrooming informal settlements. It is estimated that squatters and other urban poor communities constitute 20% (or about 250,000 people) of the current population of Phnom Penh. The inhabitants of these settlements - located in every conceivable empty space, from courtyards and rooftops, to the sides of railway tracks, riverbanks and swamps - lack secure tenure or basic services. To help address this situation and the increasing urban poverty, a number of initiatives were launched. As a follow-up to an earlier successful squatter support project phase, the Phnom Penh Urban Poverty Reduction Project started in November 2000. This phase of the project institutionalizes the lessons learned from working with urban communities in the past and strengthens the capacity of the Municipality of Phnom Penh to effectively implement their Poverty Reduction Strategy. The central aim of the project is to improve urban governance for poverty reduction and to upgrade slums by targeting 150,000 beneficiaries.
While the project focuses on institutionalizing past lessons, a wide range of activities to improve access to basic services and generate economic activities for the poor, including a vocational and apprenticeship programme, have also been implemented. These activities have helped strengthen communities to negotiate for security of tenure. In May 2003, there was a breakthrough in government policy when the Prime Minister committed to upgrade 100 slum settlements per year over the next 5 years. This has brought all the stakeholders to work together towards in-situ upgrading. At the policy level, issues of land, governance and urban poverty were the main focus, and four land-sharing projects were supported by applying various tools and methods. To support this, a Land Management Manual and Land and Housing Policy Guidelines were prepared. Joint pilot projects were implemented with the Municipal SEILA, to further strengthen pro-poor decentralized governance in an urban context. The Urban Poverty Reduction Strategy was revised and updated to link with the national urban poverty reduction strategy and the Cambodian Millennium Development Goals. A "City Without Slums Strategy" was formulated to address key issues for pro-poor investment.
Slum upgrading has become an accepted norm in Phnom Penh. Dialogues and partnership amongst communities, NGOs, and the Municipality have been strengthened. Lessons learned have been consolidated into policy documents. The Urban Poverty Reduction Unit has become fully operational at the Municipality, Khan (districts) and Sanghats (wards) levels and officials have been trained to respond positively to requests from communities. Community Action Planning has further enhanced communities' ability to articulate their problems and plan their settlements.