[Yangon, 28 April 2017] – UN-Habitat successfully held an international experience sharing workshop on slum upgrading, bringing together leading experts from the region and Myanmar to help identify possible solutions to Myanmar’s growing slum problem.
UN-Habitat in partnership with Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction, and with support of Cities Alliance, hosted an International Experience-Sharing Workshop on Slum Upgrading, highlighting regional approaches and case studies that have been successful in improving the lives of the urban poor. The full-day workshop at the Chatrium Hotel in Yangon was attended by representatives from relevant Ministries, representatives from diplomatic missions, UN agencies and local and international NGOs.
The presence of the Union Minister of Construction, H.E.U Win Khaing and the Chief Minister of the Yangon Region Government H.E. U Phyo Min Thein and senior officials of the government reflected the keen interest of the Government of Myanmar to find solutions to the country’s emerging slum issue.
As Myanmar continues to urbanise, and the country’s slums grow under the pressures of rapid urbanisation, the workshop is an important milestone in the evolution of slum and squatter policy. It marks the first time that slum upgrading was widely discussed as a possible way forward, and the basic principles of in-situ upgrading received strong support from policy makers.
With Yangon searching for ways to address its informal settlements, the workshop cautioned against widespread forced eviction and presented a range of possible alternatives. A key theme running through the regional case studies presented was the importance of government agencies working with communities, and providing an enabling environment rather than seeing individuals simply as beneficiaries.
Opening the workshop, the Union Minister of of Construction, H.E.U Win Khaing, stated that “Internationally, it is accepted that slums are the result of the urbanization process and all the nations are taking holistic approaches with better urban solutions through upgrading informal settlements and slums”.
Mr Bijay Karmacharya, Country Programme Manager of UN-Habitat in Myanmar stressed the opportunity for Myanmar. Responding to the Minister’s opening remarks, he commented that “Myanmar is in a privileged position to be able to learn from the decades of trial and error in its neighbouring countries, and draw lessons from key successes.”
Mr Disa Weerapana, technical expert on housing and resettlement and a former director of UN-Habitat ‘s Regional Office of the Asia and Pacific , spoke on the process-oriented resettlement in collaboration with the communities. By quoting Reinhardt Goethart: ‘Mimic what people do… we can help to do it better…’, he argued for a participatory process where people are at the centre of the process and governments are invited to play an enabling role by securing the tenure, providing the trunk infrastructure and where possible provide access to housing finance.
Mr Weerapana also outlined how working with communities in situations where relocation is necessary can help governments to fulfil their human rights obligations, and cautioned that forced evictions are a prima facie violation of human rights; instead, governments could secure win-win situations through innovative approaches such as land-sharing for settlements with high land values.
The second part of the workshop focused on regional examples of community-based in-situ upgrading approaches. Ms Suchada Sirarongsee, (retired) Director of the National Housing Authority of Thailand, shared the successes story of Thailand’s housing policies, with a focus on housing affordability. For her, “Housing is as key platform to improve the lives of the people”.Thailand has taken a people-focussed approach to the provision of housing, and emphasised the need to work with communities through organisations such as CODI, including in upgrading and resettlement.
Dr Johan Silas, Professor Emeritus at the Institut Teknologi Surabaya and Head of the Laboratory for Housing and Human Settlements, reported about his experiences with the exemplary Kampung Improvement Program in Surabaya. He emphasised the transformative power of enabling Surabaya’s low-income residents to improve their neighbourhoods, and rhetorically asked the audience the following question: “The poor make the city work, but does the city work for the poor?”
To conclude, Professor Utpal Sharma, member of the Indian Taskforce on Affordable Housing for All, elaborated on the urban low-cost worker housing in India and presented some best examples from India including land-sharing and land readjustment. He advocated for the provision of serviced land with mixed development, on which people can incrementally build according to their own needs: “Incremental housing is probably the only way forward for housing for the poor”.
At the end of the workshop Myanmar Sky Net TV network recorded a lively one-hour discussion on slums by a panel constituted of the four international experts and three Myanmar senior advisors and moderated by the Myanmar Country Programme Manager. The discussion will be nationally televised in the coming days.
Slums are one of the biggest urban development challenges facing cities around the world today, and are beginning to emerge as a future problem for Myanmar. As economic development and growth takes place in Myanmar, millions of rural residents will be drawn to cities by the economic and social opportunities that they offer. Yangon Region’s population alone is predicted to grow from 5.2 million people in 2014 to 9.6 million by 2038. Under the project ‘Mapping Yangon’, UN-Habitat already identified that more than 370.000 people are living in informal settlements in Yangon and more than 1.1 million are living in slum-like conditions.
However, Yangon is definitely not a unique in this sense; a lot of other cities have undergone the same kind of evolution in the past. From this point of view, Myanmar has a huge advantage: it can learn from the experiences of other countries in the region that had to deal with the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation. This workshop has been the first step to learn from the mistakes and successes of other South and SouthEast Asian countries, providing a way for Myanmar to immediately choose the right toolbox to address the emerging slum issue.
Women sell vegetables at a makeshift market in Myanmar. Photo: Markus Kostner/World Bank
With Yangon searching for ways to address its informal settlements, the workshop cautioned against widespread forced eviction and presented a range of possible alternatives.