Squatters and informal settlements in Yangon: a reality that YCDC and the government cannot elude any longer

CONTEXT

With economic growth and rapid urbanization in the Greater Yangon – former political capital and largest city in the country – the attractiveness of the city is stronger and even more for rural populations, which are facing natural disasters and climate change recurrently.

With more than 300,000 people moving to Yangon from the countryside every year, the need for accommodation is surging, while the government’s attempts to provide affordable apartments are failing because they are not affordable enough, according to a report released by Myanmar Real Estate Services Association.

Urban planning lacks a global and encompassing vision and cannot solve a problem already well established. Indeed, facing a severe lack of infrastructure, housing, basic services (water, electricity), the growing number of migrants seeking for a better future swell in the marginal fringes of Yangon.

The Urban and Housing Development Department has built some apartments, still not fast enough to assimilate the growth of the population and migrations. The problem is the land plots are expensive and there is at the moment no pre-emptive right so the UHDD can build only on public lands, and therefore, the options are limited.

Another issue is the price of the land, that makes housing expensive and even “affordable housing” is pricey. For instance, the newly built Ayeyawun-Yadanar affordable apartments are priced between Ks 60 million and Ks 120 million per unit.

 

LIVING UNDER THE THREAT OF EVICTION

According to a UNICEF report (2013) in the “typical” poor household the husband works on a daily basis, in construction across the whole Yangon Greater City. Women are more likely to work in factories or sell food items as mobile sellers in the streets of their ward and sometimes closer to downtown. The poorest households in peri-urban areas earn generally under 5000MMK/day. Besides, their income is highly seasonal and irregular.

Squatters are living in exposed places of residence that are frequently flooded and where there is insecurity of tenure. Houses that are made of temporary materials (bamboo, sheet metal, plastic) and often have to be fixed.

In urban areas people have expenses for housing, water, electricity, transport to school and work and the cost of food and clothing is higher than in rural areas. Besides food, housing, and education, health cost can pull families in the debt circle and moneylenders charge them 20% per month interest.

Yangon authorities are accused of regularly cracking down on what are considered illegal squatter areas. Often, security forces are ordered to forcibly evict slums, an approach that activists say violates the poor’s land and tenure rights.

Last January authorities twice sent police and bulldozers to clear squatters communities on the outskirts of Yangon, destroying hundreds of homes and condemning families to the streets.

So far not so many organisations are working on these areas and with squatters. Women for the World and Thone Pan Hla are two not-for-profit organisations that have been working on housing solutions and improving living conditions for slums dwellers and garment workers.  UN-Habitat and some INGO have been included urban poverty reduction in their agendas.

There is hope that the incoming NLD government will end the forced eviction of squatters and controversial land grabs. Actually NLD official Parliament speaker has said affordable housing and squatters will be one of the top priority on NLD agenda.