Habitat for Humanity Signs World Bank-Backed Land Security Deal in Cambodia

Japanese To Fund Important Pilot Project To Provide Squatter Families With Land Rights

PHNOM PENH, 16th June 2008: Habitat for Humanity International is to pilot an important World Bank-backed project to enable hundreds of squatter families living in a public park and a graveyard in Battambang, the second city of Cambodia, gain much-needed land rights for their homes.

The importance of documents: Bernadette Bolo-Duthy, Habitat for Humanity International’s country director in Cambodia, signs the agreement with Ian Porter, World Bank country representative for Cambodia, at a ceremony in Phnom Penh.

Under an agreement signed in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh last week with World Bank and government officials, Habitat for Humanity and Cambodia’s Ministry of Land Management Urban Planning and Construction are to teach poor families how to benefit from existing land laws, and then help them put the ideas into practice.

“We will be working closely with officials, community leaders and families in the process of planning, plotting and registering sites as much as physically building homes,” explained Peter Gape, regional program director for Habitat for Humanity’s Asia Pacific programs. “We are focusing on the ‘safe’, as in ‘secure and legal’, part of the Habitat mission to build ‘safe, decent, affordable’ homes for vulnerable people and families in need.”

Habitat will work with local communities to rehabilitate homes and infrastructure for 200 families who have been squatting in a public park in Prek Preah Sdach, also known as the “Garden Community”, for ten years. A further 200 families living on pavements and in a nearby graveyard will be resettled on the site.

The Habitat project is being financed by the Japan Social Development Fund, a program that sees official Japanese aid used to support the work of non-governmental organizations overseas.

The US436,000 project will be a test bed to see whether existing settlements in urban areas of Cambodia can be upgraded and regularized using the existing land law without families having to leave their homes. This is an alternative to current approach of resettling families on land far away from their communities and livelihoods. Studies have shown that resettlement adversely impacts the lives of vulnerable and marginalized groups. Rising land prices in urban areas has led to a spurt of forced eviction and land seizures, often in defiance of the law and court rulings.

For some years, the World Bank has been working with the Cambodian authorities on a program called, Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development, designed to support local communities, particularly the poor, landless and the land-poor, where they will benefit from improved land management, including land access and tenure security.

Friday’s signing involved a further US41.5 million in credit and grants being pumped into LASED and a related road infrastructure program. In addition, the Japan Social Development Fund is providing almost US2,370,000 to Habitat for Humanity and two other NGOs “to strengthen good governance in land distribution, civil society-government partnerships to deliver land tenure security and community empowerment through access to land,” according to the World Bank.

To date, the government has used the LASED program to tackle poverty, converting state land to land fully owned by the poor. This has been undertaken in rural areas.

The Japanese funding will allow non-governmental organizations to be involved in the process, and – through the Habitat project – to test the mechanism for allocating land for housing the urban poor.

The other NGOs are Lutheran World Federation, which works to make families more self reliant, and Wathnakpheap, a local NGO that focuses on helping disadvantaged children and their families.

The Habitat program has three components.

The first involves creating awareness and training to local officials, community leaders and families about land rights issues. Land is currently owned by the state, but plots will be reclassified to allow the landless poor to legally use the land.

The second component involves developing a pilot community built on a social land concession in Prek Preah Sdach. The work will involve providing starter kit homes comprising columns and roofing for families, upgrading water, sanitation and electricity facilities. “This will be funded by the Japanese money, but to extend the reach we will be establishing housing microfinance so families can save to improve and upgrade their starter-kit homes or their existing premises,” explained Habitat’s Gape.

In addition community centers, drainage and eight cross roads facilities will be built in the Prek Preah Sdach garden community. The program will also involve supporting income-generation schemes by providing training in starting and managing home-based businesses and in the production of alternative construction materials.

The third part is for the three NGOs to share experiences and learnings from their separate projects.

“We are very appreciative of the strong support of community leaders, the Governor of Battambang, His Excellency Pra Chanh, and representatives of UN ESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) who have helped us get this initiative under way,” added Bernadette Bolo-Duthy, Habitat’s country director in Cambodia.

In Cambodia, Habitat’s operates as a branch of Habitat for Humanity International. Since starting work in the country in 2003, Habitat has built, rehabilitated and repaired homes for more than 380 families, mainly in slum areas around the capital Phnom Penh. Over the next five-years, Habitat for Humanity plans to extend its operations to Battambang and five other provinces, Siem Reap, Kompong Cham, Kompong Chnang, Kompong Speu and Bantey Meanchey and build at least 3,000 homes alongside families in need.

One-third of Cambodians 14 million inhabitants live on less than US1 a day in 2004. Rising population growth and poverty in rural areas has led to an influx to towns and cities. About 250,000 people, or 20 per cent of the capital’s population, are estimated to live in squatter settlements, slums and other poor urban communities.