Urbanization and slum mitigation in Asia and the Pacific -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Urbanization and slum mitigation in Asia and the Pacific

By Wong Hiew Peng

Based on current statistics, at least 570 million people live in slums in the Asia/Pacific region[1]. That means one in three urban dwellers in Asia lacks safe and secure housing which has a negative impact on family health, children’s education and economic opportunities. By 2020, Asia will be home to an estimated 839 million slum dwellers, according to the United Nations. With a presence in more than 20 Asian countries, Habitat for Humanity plays a key role in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially with regard to slum alleviation. This article takes a look at how Habitat’s programs in Cambodia and India have a bearing on MDG 7, Target 11.


Habitat started its operations in Cambodia in 2003. It works mainly with former slum settlers around the capital city of Phnom Penh. According to the Solidarity for Urban Poor Federation (SUPF) in Cambodia, more than 180,000 people live in informal settlements in Phnom Penh. These shelters are often built on rooftops, along rivers and roadsides, and on government and private land. Most of them have neither water supply nor electricity and also lack sanitation facilities. People living in these settlements face the risk of evictions, fires and flooding.

Over the past decade, the government has been relocating the slum dwellers to sites around Phnom Penh. The Sen Sok and Samakkhi communities, which Habitat is working in, are sites of such relocations. Sen Sok, about 20 km west of Phnom Penh, is made up of more than 3,000 families. These residents were relocated following a fire accident in 2001 at their previous location along the Tonle Sap riverbank, which is now Phnom Penh’s new urban development zone.

A United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) report in 2003 found that sanitary conditions were poor, and health and educational facilities were very limited in Sen Sok. The families also faced issues such as land tenure security, basic service delivery of water supply and means of livelihood.

Habitat aims to help 65 percent of Sen Sok’s community who have some means of their own but require additional assistance to build their houses. About 20 percent of the families are able to build houses on their own without assistance. For the remaining 15 percent of the families who are struggling to make ends meet, Habitat will try to connect them with local organizations for the required help. Habitat aims to build 150 homes in Sen Sok by 2009.

Habitat also worked in another relocation community of Samakkhi where it built houses with international volunteers as well as skilled and unskilled labor in the community.


In July 2005, Habitat for Humanity and partner Discipleship Centre launched a pilot program to repair and renovate 120 houses with residents of a slum relocation colony in Delhi. Disciple Centre is a Christian, nongovernmental organization that has been working for more than a decade to improve the lives of the impoverished and marginalized in Delhi.

The slum relocation colony of Madanpur Khadar is home to about 15,000 families. It was started in 2000 when a government agency forcibly relocated families from Nehru Place, a commercial district.

A lack of infrastructure plagued the colony. For four years after their resettlement, residents lived without electricity until November 2004 when they finally had power in their homes. In the colony, drinking water has to be hauled from tankers and houses don’t have a toilet. Inadequate transportation services added a financial burden to many families.

Unlike squatters throughout India and the world, the families in Madanpur Khadar own their land. They were given the opportunity to buy plots of land upon relocation. Plot sizes depended on how long families had had legal residence as determined by their official ration cards.

But purchasing land left the Madanpur Khadar residents with few resources to build their houses. Some lived without walls or permanent roofs and strung up tarpaulins to cover their few possessions. Brick walls, where present, are often not safe and provide little support for roofs.

Through Habitat’s Save & Build program, the families will add on to what they already have to make it decent and durable, which means reinforced concrete pillars, brick walls and concrete floors. A poured concrete roof is most desirable and would allow for expanding upward, but the families may use other roofing materials until they can afford the concrete.

In August 2006, Habitat partnered with nongovernmental organization Chetanalaya in a 150-house project in the slum relocation colony of Bawana, about 40 km from Delhi. Bawana was created in 2004 to house about 10,000 families, most of whom were relocated from slum clusters along the Yamuna River in Delhi. The Bawana residents live in temporary huts made of mats and polythene sheets, and lack clean water and sanitation facilities.

In India since 1983, Habitat has helped build over 11,000 homes, sheltering 60,000 people.

Wong Hiew Peng is a writer/editor for HFH in Asia and the Pacific.


[1] Figures taken from Homeless International, http://www.homeless-international.org