08 March 2009

Slum Communities

The slum communities in Thailand are mostly found along the railroads, owned by the State Railways of Thailand (SRT). Because this land has been privatized by the SRT, the houses you’d find there are pretty run-down. Many are made of scrap metal and wood. Many don’t have access to water and electricity unless they pay a neighbor much more than they would if they were able to get it directly from the state. There is a canal running between the community and the railroad, and from the smell and the look of it, I would guess it is more or less completely clogged with human wastes.

A part of the reason that these communities face such challenges is because they don’t have the security to build houses with more desirable living conditions –they could be evicted at the will of the state. Furthermore, because they do not have a lease on the land, they are not entitled to many of the basic human rights offered to Thai citizens. We heard from individuals who weren’t able to gain access to healthcare or education for their children because they were not legal land owners. They are not allowed access to electricity or water by the state. In many cases, people living without a lease in these areas are hardly considered Thai citizens.

The only way to work within this system is to lease the land from the SRT. However, the SRT will not lease land within 20 meters of the railroad, and often demand more than the villagers can pay for the land. The difference between the rented land and the “slum” area is as clear as night and day. The woman I stayed with lived on rented land because she was fortunate enough to have run a successful business selling rice. Her neighbors were not so lucky. A wall separated my host from her neighbors, marking the edge of the rented land. Once you cross the wall, the soil is murkier, the houses look as though they may not survive a strong rain storm, and the ground is physically about 2 feet lower because soil had to be added to the rented land to create a stable foundation for the house.

It seems pretty obvious in this situation that the privatization of land is directly related to the marginalization of entire communities in Khon Kaen. Of course, the problem is not as simple as that, I believe there are ways for companies to be responsible land owners. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a situation in which this was definitely not the case.

--Sarie Hill, Kenyon College


Ben Pounds said...

The slums here are down in the ravines usually. They often started out as squatter settlements (or so I've heard). Often (as I've said in an earlier response) they sit along the banks of rivers that cary sewage and visible suds. In terms of being able to upgrade houses, I don't think it's an issue here but I could be wrong. I assume that many who want to upgrade houses just move uphill. The very top of the hill is practically resorts. I've heard there's been some issues with handicapped people getting up the stairs.

Ben Pounds said...

...in the slums (barrancas) that is (they often have stairs).
We're sort of in the middle: a district of small shops, with shopkeepers and a few Spanish schools.