Security and informal settlements: Bangkok.

by trenzpruca

Thai people

Thai people (Photo credit: Cak-cak)

Crime in Thailand and in Bangkok:

Several sources rank Thailand among the more crime ridden countries in the world (The Eighth United Nations survey on Crime Trends and the Criminal Justice System (2002), Amnesty International and others). As in many urban areas, this high level of violence, drugs and crime falls heavily upon the poor. In Bangkok, it falls especially hard on the almost 1 million people living the informal settlements that dot the city. The United Nations Seventh Congress on Criminal Justice in a Changing World indicates that there is a statistical relationship between crime rates and migration of the poor into informal settlements in urban areas where the exigencies of survival in their current environment shreds whatever sense of community they may have had in the neighborhoods they left behind.

Proposed solutions to the lack of security experienced by members of informal settlements.

Most programs to address crime focus on helping individuals gain the resources to enable them to leave behind the slums with their endemic crime and poverty. Others believe that amelioration of the crime problem in these informal communities is a matter of more and better policing. Still others believe providing and enhancing infrastructure and health programs to the community could turn the tide of despair and violence.

No doubt each approach needs to be part of the whole solution. Nevertheless, without community building, it seems clear that these informal settlements of the poor and migrants will remain breeding grounds for crime. Security of any kind for residents of informal and poverty-stricken communities begins with the recognition by the residents themselves that they are in fact a community and that they can do something about what happens to it.

While there are a number of community building organizations at work in these neighborhoods of Bangkok, none seems to have crime suppression as a major or primary goal. Perhaps this is a function of the ubiquitous nature of the national police system in the country. On the other hand, it also may be the endemic lack of the basic elements of a sense of community that stunts the growth of this essential indication of a vigorous self-assured populace.

BAAN MANKONG PROGRAM

Although Thailand lacks institutions or organizations focused on public safety and crime suppression outside of the national police system, some programs and organizations in Bangkok build into their operations mechanisms that encourage informal settlements assume control of their destinies and by so doing address their unique security needs. One of the most successful and vibrant initiatives of this type is the BAAN MANKONG PROGRAM.

The Thai government set up BAAN MANKONG in 2003. According to the organization’s spokespeople, the program channels government funds (infrastructure subsidies and housing and land loans) directly to urban poor community organizations. The program allows urban poor communities to be key actors in the housing and other upgrades to their community.

The members of the community control the funding, manage the projects and carry out the improvements. They also undertake most of the building activities themselves, which means most of the funds would remain within the community and work as seed capital for additional investments in housing and community.

Bangkok’s 1,200 urban poor settlements house almost a third of Thailand’s urban poor spread across 50 khets (districts). BAAN MANKONG regards each district as a city. every district does its own survey, forms a joint committee with all key actors and develops a 3 year upgrading program.

The BAAN MANKONG program promotes more than physical upgrading. The communities design and manage their own physical improvements. This helps stimulate deeper but less tangible changes in social structures, managerial systems and confidence within the poor communities affected.

The BAAN MANKONG differs from more traditional approaches to community building in that:

1. The community through their own local organizations controls the funding and the management as well as undertakes most of the building. Government agencies are no longer the planners, implementors and construction manager delivering for beneficiaries. The community now assumes those roles.

2. The community’s needs as defined by the community shapes the nature and amount of funding.

3 Secure land tenure for the residents is negotiated locally in each case through a variety of means such as cooperative land buy, long-term lease contracts, land swaps or user rights..

4. It stimulates changes in the community’s social structure in many areas including crime suppression.

An example of the effect of a BAAN MANKONG project on Bangkok’s informal settlements took place in the Ramkhamhaeng area in Bangkok. Two initial pilot projects sparked off a larger development process involving seven other communities.

The first was Ruam Samakkee, a squatter community of 124 families occupying 0.8 hectares of Crown Property Bureau land. After forming a cooperative and developing a new layout plan for two-story homes with architects, the community negotiated a 30 year lease.

The second was at Kao Pattana where 34 families lived on a marshy 0.8 hectare site also belonging to the Crown Property Bureau. The residents planned to build their own homes on this site but found the landfill cost too high. Seven other communities joined them to prepare a redevelopment plan providing for over 1000 households on 40 hectares in the area. Working with the landowner, the project created new residential areas linked to markets and parks. Although the plan involves reblocking in some areas and relocation nearby in others, everyone will remain in the area with long-term leases through community cooperatives.

Unfortunately for Baan Mankong, the new government suspended funding while it reviewed priorities. About 3 billion baht (Approximately $100 million) remain from the original 6 billion baht authorization.

Recently, about 100 members of the Four Regions Slum Network (FRSN) gathered at the Department of Social Development and Welfare, pressing the government to fund the Baan Mankong instead or another program that focuses on middle-income housing. Nevertheless, a representative for the government indicated that it intends to accelerate spending for the program.

Who is safe? What does in mean to be safe?

One question that can always be asked when analyzing the nature and extent of security available to the poor and the destitute living in the slums of most large cities is, from whom are they to be secure; other residents, outsiders or those ostensibly entrusted with providing that security? Perhaps even more fundamental is the issue of security from what; violence, hopelessness, sickness, fear or something else? In many, if not all cases, these questions are answered best, not by which physical security system the community adopts but rather its ability to grasp control of the means to secure its own protection.

Crime in Thailand and in Bangkok:

Several sources rank Thailand  among the more crime ridden countries in the world, right up there with South Africa, the USA and Columbia (The Eighth United Nations survey on Crime Trends and the Criminal Justice System (2002), Amnesty International and others). According to some reports, Thailand is the #1 producer of opium and heroin in the world. A major transit  point for those drugs is the capital Bangkok. Last year Bangkok had reported, 20,000 assaults, 13,500 burglaries, and 5,000 murders.

As in many urban areas, this high level of violence, drugs and crime falls heavily upon the poor. In Bangkok it falls especially hard on the almost 1 million people living the informal settlements that dot the city like acne on the face of a teenager. The overcrowding and social dislocation experienced in these informal communities are a catalyst for some of their most common difficulties. Problems, such as poor housing and infrastructure, improper waste removal and drainage systems, lack of clean water supply and abundant diseases, contribute to the plight of the residents, exacerbate hopelessness felt by the them and contribute greatly to those communities susceptibility to the plague of crime and violence.

The United Nations Seventh Congress on Criminal Justice in a Changing World indicated that there is a statistical relationship between crime rates and migration of the poor into informal settlements in urban areas where the exigencies of survival in their current environment shreds whatever sense of community they belonged to in the past

Proposed solutions to the lack of security experienced by members of informal settlements:

Most programs to address crime focus on helping individuals gain the resources to enable them to leave the slums with their endemic crime and poverty behind. For example, the Urban Neighbors of Hope (UNOH) primarily provides support to assist children in the hopes that through education some of them can rise above the despair and poverty, leave it behind and take their place in the wider world.

Some believe that amelioration of the crime problem in these informal communities is a matter of more and better policing. Usually the government and the existing police rely most heavily on this approach.

Others promote providing and enhancing infrastructure and health programs to the community. They believe that these programs could turn the tide of despair and violence.

No doubt each approach needs to be part of whole. Nevertheless, without community building, it seems clear that these informal settlements of migrants and of the poor will remain breeding grounds for crime. While there are a number of community building organizations at work in these neighborhoods of Bangkok, none seems to have crime suppression as a major or primary goal. Perhaps this is a function of the ubiquitous nature of the national police system in the country. On the other hand, it also may be the endemic lack of the basic elements of a sense of community that stunts the growth of this essential indication of a vigorous self assured populace.

Some of these elements are well known. They include, for example, defensible land tenure for the residents and community managed and designed public spaces.

As programs like BAAN MANKONG bring revitalization and control over their environment to the informal settlements, we can hope that they will cease to be someplace to escape from, but a home to which one will be proud to return to.

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