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 DUHD, with support of Cities Alliance, invited four outstanding international experts on slum upgrading to Yangon, to present their experiences on slum upgrading. The full-day workshop at the Chatrium Hotel in Yangon was attended both by representatives from relevant Ministries, by representatives from diplomatic missions , UN agencies and a number of 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 emerging slum issue.
The Union Minister of of Construction, H.E.U Win Khaing, opened the workshop with a speech, stating: “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. He said : “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.
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.”
Mr Jack Finegan, Urban Programme Specialist of UN-Habitat, stated in his presentation that: “The informal settlements in Yangon are growing, 270 of the 423 slum pockets have developed since 2010.” However, he argued that the informal settlements are people’s last resort: it is a mere result of the housing shortage in Yangon at a location where the low income people need them.
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 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. 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 4 international experts and three Myanmar senior advisors and moderated by the Myanmar Country Programme Manager. The discussion will be televised nationwide soon.
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 immediately chose the right toolbox to address the emerging slum issue.