For many of the 2,800 squatter families who recently lost their houses in two massive fires, “home” now means a sheet of plastic and a couple of poles in the middle of a remote rice field. If they’re lucky, a bamboo mat serves as a floor.
Already, the relocation of these people has posed an unprecedented challenge to the municipality, the UN and NGOs because there are so many of them—an estimated 10,000—and because they were forced out with no warning or preparation.
Now there is a new challenge: putting roofs over their heads and, if possible, walls around them and floors under their feet.
“Most of them have virtually nothing to rebuild with—maybe a couple of charred poles and some bent roofing. It’s by no means sufficient to protect them from the elements,” said Peter Swan of the UN Center for Human Settlements, who has worked closely with the municipality and NGOs on the relocation of the fire victims.
About 2,400 families have now moved to 7- by 15-meter plots on a former rice field in an area known as Anlong Knan, about 30 km north of the city in Russei Keo district. Another 400 families, mostly poor renters from the Nov 26 fire behind the Bassac theater, are on a smaller site known as Anlong Gong, in Dangkao district.
Providing the displaced families shelter won’t be cheap. A design drafted by the UNCHS for a previous relocation, which included six concrete beams, corrugated metal roofing and a layer of stone for the floor, cost $143 per house.
Building the same structure for all 2,800 relocated families would cost about $400,400. But the $143 house, which is not elevated, isn’t ideal for the relocation sites, both of which are prone to flooding.
Thus, while the scale of this relocation means less money will likely be available per household than in previous relocations, more money per household is needed to keep the shelters from washing away. Where the money will come from remains to be decided. Swan plans to meet with Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara and others today to decide how to proceed.
“We’ll see what the municipality can contribute, and then see what we can put in and what the NGOs can put in,” Swan said.
Chea Sophara said Monday the municipality won’t be able to contribute any funds because there is no allocation in the municipal budget for emergencies. “The municipality can help to make the ideas and the design [for the houses], but we will need donations to pay for it,” he said.
Swan acknowledged that compromises will have to be made. “We don’t live in a perfect world where we have unlimited funds,” he said. “We have to balance the cost of housing with the cost of infrastructure.”
Communal needs such as water and sanitation will have to take precedence.”