Squatters Celebrate New Homes as UN Celebrates Habitat Day

Tach Rith does not like the place where he lives. The15-year-old is excited about leaving the squatter community of Toul Svay Prey, in southern Phnom Penh.

“No traffic, enough water. A rice field. Big space. Easy to get fish and snails and spiders,” Tach Rith says excitedly as he stands in a muddy rut outside a shack of discarded lumber near the Chinese Embassy.

After years of meter-deep floods, unsafe water, and busy traffic endangering their children, the 129 families of Toul Svay Prey squatter camp decided they had had enough.

Cramped and crowded in a jumble of corrugated steel, cardboard, warped lumber and thatch, they appealed to the UN Development Program last year to help them resettle.

Helping foster safer communities for the people in Tuol Svay Prey and the other estimated 200,000 squatters in the city is the theme of this year’s UN World Habitat Day, “Safer Cities,” ob­served today.

The UN Center for Human Set­tle­ment sponsors a World Ha­bi­­tat Day cleanup this morning in Ban­­­dos Vichea, also known as Vil­lage 15, on Sothearos Boule­vard.

With donated shovels, rakes, boots and gloves, residents of the encampment and others will clean the area. “We hope to initiate regular, daily garbage collection schemes in all of the communities.” said Michael Slingsby, chief technical advisor for the UN human settlement project.

Long-range projects for the urban poor complement today’s clean­up. UNDP and the UN hu­man settlement center, in cooperation with the Municipality of Phnom Penh and NGOs, work to­gether on the Phnom Penh Ur­ban Poor Communities and Mu­ni­cipality Development Project.

The project has supplied street lights in some squatter communities, built roads, toilets and drains in others. The focus is on improving living standards or on relocation. The project relies on the squatters for decision making.

The most ambitious project to date is the plan that has Tach Rith looking forward to clean water and catching snails: the relocation of the Tuol Svay Prey families.

Through the Squatter’s Federa­tion of Urban Poor, the residents of Tuol Svay Prey told the project they wanted to leave their cram­ped existence. The mu­nicipality purchased one hectare of land in Dangkoa district with the advice of the re­sidents. The com­munity liked the location: clean, not far from the city and near factories that could provide jobs.

Construction is under way on lat­rines for each of the homes that will be built in the new location. There also will be several wells. A community meeting se­lected workers from the 129 families to build a drainage system, roads and to landscape the area.

Two model homes have been built, solid brick, not cardboard. One is finished with doors, window shutters and interior walls. The other model has a roof, foundation and brick beams. The finished home sells for $1,400, the unfinished one for $700. Urban Poor Development Fund, an NGO that gives credit assistance to urban poor, will provide loans.

Men Chamnan, community leader for Tuol Svay Prey, takes a break from working on one of the houses. He looks across the pale green rice paddy adjacent to the new land as he stands by a fresh pond. “This is a better place for living,” he reflects.



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