by Thu Huong & Bich Huong
HA NOI (VNS)— The road that leads to this neighbourhood under Long Bien bridge was even more slippery after days of light rain.
|Part of a so-called slum in Ha Noi's Ba Dinh District. The slum, overlooking a polluted canal under Long Bien Bridge, is home to hundreds of low-income earners from rural areas. — VNS Photo Thu Huong
The rain made the smell of rotten fruit, garbage and waste water even stronger.
The area is home to hundreds of labourers who make a living from the wholesale Long Bien night market as potters and fruit sellers or by running various errands.
During the late morning, most of the dilapidated houses overlooking the canal scattered with garbage are locked. The male workers, who work as potters, have left already.
Some women, after catching up on sleep after a night at the fruit market, stay later to cook and gossip.
The neighbourhood is part of Phuc Xa Ward in Ha Noi's Ba Dinh District, one of the central districts.
It's considered one of the capital's slums.
Most of the residents here come from neighbouring northern provinces, such as Hung Yen, Hai Duong and Nam Dinh, to earn money to supplement
their earnings from farming back at home.
Sixty-two-year-old Tran Thi Thin and her son have lived in one of the decrepit homes, merely six square meters, for the past 15 years. They pay a monthly
rent of about VND 800,000 ($US40).
She makes a living from picking up scraps and other waste materials, then selling them to scrap-iron dealers. On good days, she earns about VND50,000. When
her health does not permit wandering through dumps and bending down, the money is less.
"At least our place doesn't get leaks when it rains," she said. "In the summer, we have one fan. That's good enough." The place doesn't have a rest room so they use the rest room in the market, paying VND2,000 for each visit.
Thin said that occasionally, people from the ward authorities come to check on them, one of their few connections with the bustling city outside.
Nguyen Khanh Tung, 46, and his wife were tucking in their two-month baby in their nearby place. Tung said he makes money by pushing fruit trolleys at night in
Long Bien market.
"We pay VND500,000 per month for this," Tung said, pointing to his six-square-metre place, which fit barely more than a bed. "We brought our kid here
because she's sick. No one could look after her at home while we worked."
The place was located in a cul-de-sac, which made the rent cheaper. Tung said many of his fellow villagers from Hung Yen Province also came here during the
off-peak season for farming.
Even though Ha Noi and other Vietnamese urban areas have few slums compared with cities in India, Indonesia and Thailand, slums still exist, accommodating those who can't afford to live anywhere else.
In 2005, the United Nations Habitat estimated that 9 million Vietnamese, accounting for roughly 41 per cent of the urban population, were living in slums.
According to the World Bank, Viet Nam is urbanising at a rate of 3.4 per cent annually.
The organisation's report in Viet Nam Urbanisation Review, released in April, showed that while Viet Nam has done a relatively good job in providing basic services and the lack of large-scale slums suggests that most people have access to housing, there were definitely signs that this was changing.
Analysis in the report suggests that only the top 5 per cent of the income distribution in Ha Noi and HCM City can afford the typical housing provided today by formal
land developers. "Slums are positive in the sense that they represent a housing solution and are often part of the process that goes with early urbanisation and economic development," said Dean Cira, chief author of the report and a WB expert on urbanisation.
In many countries, slums are the only housing option available to new migrants and urban residents, according to Cira.
Pham Thi Hue Linh, director of Planning Centre 4 under the Institute of Architectural Planning under the Construction Ministry, said the definition of slums could vary in different countries, but most urban centres have run-down housing areas.
"In many countries, slums have been upgraded to create better living environments for residents without being cleared out," Linh said. "Sustainable urban planning also encourages the participation of communities. It does not mean wiping out the old and replacing it with the new."
According to Linh, even though many international studies suggest Viet Nam does not have large-scale slums, Vietnamese cities do have many neighbourhoods where people live in make-shift housing in extremely decrepit living environments.
Besides Phuc Xa in Ha Noi, these areas also include Hoang Cau (Dong Da District) and Dinh Cong (Hoang Mai District). In HCM City, they tend
to be scattered along the Nhieu Loc - Thi Nghe canal area and Binh Tan and Binh Chanh districts.
"People cling on to slums because they need to earn a livelihood," she said. "We need to make clear studies on their lives, their income, their concerns and the social problems in these neighbourhoods before making any concrete plans."
Le Dieu Anh, an expert from the Association of Cities of Viet Nam, said there has been a tendency to "replace the old with the new" in regards to upgrading
urban areas in Ha Noi and HCM City which could push the poor away from urban development.
"Most are migrants, who provide cheap labour for the production and service sectors of the city," Anh said. "Wiping out the slums is costly, and they might just be replaced with new slum areas, especially in urban areas with a low level of infrastructure."
According to Anh, urban planning must integrate the poor into slum areas and protect their livelihoods.
In an interview with a local online newspaper, Nguyen Quoc Thanh, chairman of the Phuc Xa Ward People's Committee, said the ward authorities wanted the city to approve a development plan for the neighbourhood.
Back in his neighbourhood, Tung said he does not care whether the slum area will be wiped out in the future.
If that happened, he said, he would return to his hometown in Hung Yen. — VNS