In Thailand, 27% of the urban population is living in slums and 2% of the total population does with less than $1 a day. Social housing is government-owned housing dedicated to low-income population. Considered affordable, it aims to reduce housing inequalities and poverty. As such, it is viewed as a potential solution to slums, particularly preoccupying in developing countries.
The Khlong Toei slum is the largest one in Thailand. Located in Bangkok, it gathers about 100.000 people, mostly migrants from Northern Thailand and illegally occupying the lands. This figure could appear not so bad compare to the 8 million people population estimated in the capital, but it is unfortunately not the only one. Such an unprivileged area inevitably results in harmful consequences, ranging from obnoxious conditions of living to drug trafficking and high criminality rates. Lack of safety, hygiene and privacy represent as well ethical issues on which governments cannot turn a blind eye on.
Moreover, slums also come along with major social problems: in disadvantaged areas, education is often neglected (if accessible, which is not always common) in order to help one’s family work. This results then in serious consequences such as difficulties in finding jobs, which increases the risk of sinking into drug dealing or other criminal activities. Actually, it is well-known that poverty feeds poverty and very low incomes lead to a foursquare refusal to loan money from banks in most of cases.
Thus, given slum populations are mostly illegally occupying land, often socially rejected and politically ignored. Being born in a slum, with no legal recognition, constantly surrounded by illness, extreme poverty, hopeless future, insecurity and high criminality rate raises a serious human dignity issue.
However, slums are not an irremediable curse but an avoidable step in the urban development of a metropolis experiencing tremendously fast growth. New York, London or Paris also had to deal with overpopulated areas issues, and launched in the 1930’-60’ redevelopment projects to clear slums from the city. The most striking example is Singapore: in 1965, one person out of two was illiterate, 70% of the population was living in overpopulated areas and the GDP per capita of the country was $2.700. Around 45 years later, in 2011, Singapore stands as one of the top 3 most competitive countries and the least corrupted country in the world. Its GDP per capita multiplied by more than 20 which ranks Singapore among the 10 wealthiest countries in the world. Moreover, it is also considered by the United Nations as the world’s only slum-free capital.
Nowadays, Thailand’s need in housing is estimated to 310.000 units per year, among which 180.000 (60%) are dedicated to low-income households. Several organizations help run social housing projects in Thailand, such as the National Housing Authority (NHA), the Government Housing Bank (GHB) and the Government Saving Bank (GSB). Habitat for Humanity also provides assistance through volunteering programs to build affordable housing. For example, the United Nations Environment Programme’s project called SUSHI (Sustainable Social Housing Initiative)aims at promoting a greener usage of resources in order to build social housing. Thus, sustainable materials are highly recommended since they enable occupiers to save money.
Today, Thailand’s situation toward slums is quite optimistic: according to the 2006/2007 UN-HABITAT State of the World’s Cities Report, Thailand stands out on its efforts to reduce slum growth rates (although still increasing) through its slum upgrading plan. We can expect Thailand, in the coming decades, to do as good as other western metropolis did in terms of slum clearance – if not better!
Article written by Mathieu Testa & Pierre-Louis Vouteau