Squatters: a challenge for the new government

The squatter problem in Yangon is growing day by day. The problem remains unresolved, despite the efforts of successive governments.

In the 1990s, Yangon had 9,019 squatter households. According to figures collected in 19 townships in the Yangon municipal area, this number has increased to 43,985 today—about five times higher than in the 1990s.  Hlaingthaya Township is home to the largest number of squatters, followed by Dagon Seikkan Township.

Nearly half a million squatters and Yangon

According to one estimation, there are about 500,000 squatters in Yangon. Yangon’s native population growth rate sits at 0.7 per cent. The population growth rate is 2.3 per cent, as people across the country are flocking to Yangon.

How did the squatter problem arise?

People from the rural areas are flocking to Yangon in order to find job opportunities. Previous governments have paid attention only to urban development.

Likewise, the number of people who have moved to the urban areas has significantly increased due to natural disasters and fighting between the government army and ethnic armed groups. The main reason why most of people are migrating to Yangon is to find jobs. But skyrocketing property prices force them to become squatters. Such migration problems arise not only in Yangon but also in Mandalay.

Squatters in slums

Most of squatters have to live on state-owned and private lands near rivers, creeks and alluvial lands. Most squatters in Hlaingthaya Township have to live in industrial zones, though not all of them work in these zones. They have no access to water, electricity or healthcare services. In addition, their children have no access to education.

How many kinds of squatter types?

Some squatters trespass on the private and state-owned lands in the hope that they will get compensation from the government. And other squatters are so poor they have no houses. Most of squatters live below the poverty line.

They are our citizens

Squatters are our citizens, whether or not they are trespassing on the private and state-owned lands. They do so because they are living in dire poverty.

Fearful lives

The government ministries demolished squatter houses and huts after issuing warnings. The authorities hired people to clear the squatter houses and huts. They have torn down squatter houses and huts not only by bulldozer but also by hand.

Recently, the authorities demolished squatter houses and huts in Dagon Seikkan and Mingaladon townships at the order of Myint Swe, the Yangon Region chief minister.

The smoothest way to solve squatter problems

There are three ways to deal with squatter problems—(1) forcibly removing them, (2) offering housing in other places or (3) promoting their living standards where they already live.

“Some countries use force to evict squatters. First, the government should seek the smoothest way to solve this problem. As a last resort, the government should use force. The government should think about the squatting and migration and then arrange the suitable situation for them,” said one person who recently wrote a paper on the squatter issue.

There is a widespread belief among the public that the government should have a burning desire to deal with this problem.

In doing so, it needs to implement a housing policy. For instance, about 50,000 people migrate to Yangon each a year. The government should develop affordable housing options whose prices are within their financial reach by adopting long-term plans.

Is there affordable housing for squatters?

In a reply to a question posed in the regional parliament, Yangon mayor Hla Myint said there is no plan to allocate lands to squatters, the regional government is implementing low and affordable housing for them.

Take a look at low and affordable housing prices, which are valued at 11, 12, 20 and 30 million kyats, respectively. These prices beyond the financial reach of people who have regular incomes, though that excludes many squatters.

Is public rental housing available for squatters?

The Yangon Region government announced that people can apply for public rental apartments in South Dagon Township from Feburary 1 until February 15. The project is being implemented on 12 acres of land at the corner of No 2 Main Road and Mahabandoola Road. The rent will be Ks 30,000 per month. But the 1,200 apartments will not accommodate the total number of squatters in Yangon.

The “hut to apartment” project

Successive governments solved squatter problems by relocating squatters out of the city and developing new towns.  It can be said that these methods gained little success. But now, the government uses the eviction of squatters by force.

Taking account of squatters who live for many years

Khin Hlaing (Zawtika), a member of the Yangon City Development Committee said: “Some squatters have been living there for 15-20 years. The resettlement of those squatters shall be taken into consideration in the time of next government.”

Squatter problem awaiting the new government

The squatter problem remains unresolved. It will drag on when the next government comes to power. It will be interesting to see how the new government will deal with it.


Source: Eleven Media

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