11 February 2007

Rivers and the Poor

Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (4)

FROM how they tackle poor people’s dwelling along the riverbanks in the city, at least I can see the attitude and the way of how the Bangkok administration perceives the problem of poverty and the slum areas. They do not take eviction as the first option as compared to Jakarta administration but renovation. The Bangkok administration offers aids to repair houses and their environments including to build the artificial terraces along the rivers.

It is no surprise then that the rivers running through Bangkok are tidily mantained and organized, although the poor live along the banks. Even you can find a river, along the banks of which are decorated with nice lamps and benches for passerbies. They do not treat only the physical aspects of the river but also its social aspects. The communities are facilitated that they may organize themselves in order to design and to plan the renovation of their dwelling places and of the surrounding physical environments.

How do they renovate the poor dwelling along the rivers? I would like to tell you here the experiences of the Samakkee community at Ramkhamhaeng Soi 39 district, one of nine poor people communities in Bangkok that I recently visited. They have completed the renovation process. This dwelling that was a slump has now changed into clean and organized area. There are 124 households occupying 0.8 hectar plot of land owned by the Crown Property Biro (CPB). The renovation started from the people’s struggle to be recognized as a legal, formal community. They needed such a recognition in order to prolong the rent of the land they dwelt on.

After being granted formal status of the community and reached an agreement on the land rent for 30 years with the CPB in May 2003, they designed a renovation plan for the community. Being helped by a young architect, they drew the building design of two-storey small housing. The plan was then proposed to the government that was tackled by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), a government institution under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

Caption: Ruam Samakkee in Bangkok, Thailand, before and after 2003 community renovation.

Based on the proposed plan, the government granted aids of, first, soft loan to repair or to build small houses to the community, second, offered financial grant to build infrastructural means like water and electricity facilities, sanitation means, streets and health center, etc. and third, another grant to help develop people organization including for developing a cooperative that they had earlier set up. From those experiences I can see how the renovation of poor people communities has become a real alternative instead of evicting them away. These experiences have also proved that development projects without evicting the poor are indeed possible to do.

Not all communities in Bangkok have similar experience. There is a community to which the government only helped building certain infrastructure like street and other parties participated in other projects in the communities. While the communities themselves did the rest on their own effort. Other communities are still struggling in obtaining other plot of land to replace their earlier dwelling place. Othera are currently under stress as they are about to be evicted while negotiating other solutions.

The interesting thing that I found from the poor community areas in Bangkok is that they have very different facilities as compared to Jakarta. I was strucked by the fact that even in a such dense population among the poor communities, they still have public spaces such as meeting halls, open spaces for common activities in which they put benches for public uses, playing ground for children and fire extinguisher tubes that are always kept in their homes. It is surprising for me that in a very poor life condition they still can think about public spaces and playing grounds for children. Such a situation is indeed difficult to imagine in Jakarta. You will hardly find public spaces or playing ground for children. You will not find fire extinguisher tubes in poor communities in Jakarta.

Even if you find the same poor condition in both cities, security and protection are stronger felft in Bangkok than in Jakarta. In Jakarta, the poor are almost always charged as scapegoat of the city problems such for the flood or traffic jam. Yearly flood that hit Jakarta is said to be caused by poor people who live along river banks. Traffic jams are said to be created by street hawkers or street vendors. It is not surprising that the Jakarta administration tends to be arbitrary against the poor. Instead of protecting people from fire, the government even uses arson as an effective mean to evict the poor, as it was admitted by Security and Order division head of the North Jakarta administration. (continued)*

Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (5)
Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (3)
Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (2)
Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (1)

See Indonesian version.

External Comments:
* Harry Adinegara

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