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To        Mrs.Tibaijuka, Executive Director. UN-HABITAT

Re        Housing Situation of the Urban Poor in Thailand

Dear     Mrs.Tibaijuka :

 

The United Nations has designed the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The Four Regions Slum Network, which is an organization created by the joining together of residents of slum communities throughout Thailand, has regularly organized campaign activities on the occasion of World Habitat Day and presented recommendations to representative of the United Nations in Thailand every year since 2001. Moreover, in 2002 the Four Regions Slum Network jointly organized World Habitat Day activities together with UN-HABITAT.

 

However, because of the seizure of power from the government of Police Lt,Col. Thaksin Shinawatra this year by the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDR),the Four Regions Slum Network had to postpone the organizing of World Habitat Day activities until the last week of October 2006. The Four Regions Slum Network wishes to summarize the housing situation of urban poor people in Thailand and its recommendations to the United Nations as follow :

 

1)      The recent change in government makes it uncertain whether the Baan Mankhong Program, which was initiated by the past government, will be continued or not. The Four Regions Slum Network supports the principles of the Baan Mankhong Program, which enables slum communities that have the status of trespassers to improve their original housing and settlements, and gain security of residence through long-term leases or installment payments toward ownership, which is the approach that the Four Regions Slum Network has suggested all along, rather than the original ineffective policy of dismantling and moving communities to areas outside of the city.

 

2)      Nevertheless, the Four Regions Slum Network recognizes that this program still has many problems in practice that the Thai government has not yet address. Therefore, we wish to provide information about the other side, so that UN-HABITAT knows the facts, sine receiving only one-sided, positive information from official government organizations distorts the truth :

 

2.1) Obstacles relating to land are the biggest obstacles. Land owners, whether state or private, jealously guard their land and are unwilling to rent or sell to poor people, since they will receive lower compensation than if they rent to the business sector. One example is the case of land owned by the Port Authority of Thailand, over which there are still conflicts, since the Port Authority wants to expel the communities on this land in order to build the Klong Toei Complex.

 

2.2) Obstacles relating to regulations on the construction of buildings : the problem arises during the phase of improvements and construction of houses, since there are ordinances establishing standards that are very high. For example, house themselves must be at least two meters away from the perimeter of the land on all sides. As a result, for poor people who are renting very small plots of land, for example with dimensions of four meters wide by ten meters long, if they must exclude an area of two meters on all sides, then they have no space left over on which to build a house. In turn, when poor people are unable to build houses according to standard, government authorities will only issue them temporary household registration documents.

 

We wish to inform you of the fact that last year, a leader of the Bon Gai Community of Phathumwan District in Bangkok, which is one of the communities visited by an UN representative, was found by the court to have constructed a house in violation of the law on building control. The court fined this community leader one million baht, but poor people do not have this kind of money to pay the fine. Furthermore, since the law has yet to be amended, other community leaders can be reported to the authorities and prosecuted in the same way.

 

2.3)  Problem of increasing evictions and demolitions : Standing in opposition to the policy of Bann Mankhong is eviction and demolition of communities by state organizations, for example, eviction and demolition in the face of a state communications mega-project. In the past, the state has been concerned only about the budget to be used for investment, but has not had a plan for supporting the more than 4,000 families from communities that have been forced to relocate, In addition, evictions and demolitions are being carried out by owners of private land, too.

 

The various obstacles presented above were identified through a review of the lessons learned and the experiences of the people"s sector. However, Thai officials have not informed the UN about these problems. Furthermore, we are worried because so far, the goal has been to have the Baan Mankhong Program complete 300,000 units of housing within five years (2004-2008). But isn"t this goal higher than the capacity of the program ? We are concerned that the program is rushing in terms of quantity in order to meet political goals, but in so doing, will leave problems behind that will have to be dealt with in the future. Because UN-HABITAT has taken the Baan Mankhong Program as a model program for the international community, it should be aware of the above mentioned limitations, too. Solving the problems of the urban poor requires structural reform, reform of regulations, interests, and unjust attitudes, in order to disperse land and create security of residence for poor people. Achieving these goals depends on both pushing by the people"s sector, as well as resolute political intentions. Without either of these, it would be difficult to achieve these goals.

 

Finally, the Four Regions Slum Network greatly popes that UN-HABITAT will learn of the true situation regarding the housing of urban poor people in Thailand from the people"s sector. Moreover, we also hope that knowing thoroughly about the situation and the lessons learned from the Baan Mankhong policy will be of use to other nations, so that they cam implement policies that are even more progressive in the future.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

(Mr. Jinda Charoensuk)

President, Four Regions Slum Network Thailand

 

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