This report is based on findings from a survey conducted in five informal settlements in Hlaing Thar Yar, and it aims to assess the possible upgrading of housing and settlements. The survey consisted of household interviews, case studies, ward administrators interviews, community organizations interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). While the household survey forms the basis of the report, a number of insights were derived from the other tools, providing an in-depth understanding of the situation. In some cases, respondents had conflicting views, for example, most household respondents believe their community is united and that they often participate in community activities, but the organizations interviewed said communities are not united and participation in group activities is low. Such difference in views are important and discussed, whenever relevant, as they illustrate the complexity of the issues discussed.
Household characteristics vary but the vast majority are headed by men. Usually, the household head makes decisions on where to settle without consultation with other household members. In nearly 20% of households, however, the spouse makes the decisions, which, as seen in other surveys with respondents with similar demographic characteristics, might be explained by the fact that women tend to administer the finances of the house.
Despite variations discussed in the report, respondents have low income and 67% of them have taken a loan in the last 12 months, and most of those have taken a loan five times or more (30%), followed by once only (26%), twice (20%), three times (15%) and four times (9%). Moreover, low income is the main reason (52% in total) that respondents feel financially vulnerable. The respondents would spend their money on health as a priority followed by food and groceries, and education under financial troubles.
About half of the respondents came from Yangon and the other half from other states or regions. There are differences between settlements, but there is no clear trend despite the fact that respondents from two settlements located in ‘inner urban land fill areas’ mostly came from Ayeyarwady. Livelihood issues and economic difficulties are the main forces driving settlers away from their place of origin, and Hlaing Thar Yar was chosen due to the availability of land or houses, proximity to family and low rents. While it is known that a number of victims of disasters have settled in Hlaing Thar Yar, very few respondents in the survey belonged to this group.
An important finding regarding the dynamics of the settlements is that respondents relied mostly on information from parents or relatives before moving. The 5 settlements have a high proportion of squatters, as high as 93% of households in settlement ID8/9, to 60% in settlement ID16.1, even though most respondents have been living in Hlaing Thar Yar for more than five years.
Most respondents are squatters, yet they say that they own the house they lived in, with over half of them having a smart card as an evidence. About a third, however, did not have any form of registration.
Land tenure, more specifically the risk of being removed at any time, is the main concern, which is not helped by the fact that nearly all respondents believe the process to securing land tenure is very difficult.
The respondents have little or no government support to access electricity, water, sewage or waste disposal. Electricity is obtained from community supplies and drinking water is bought from trucks or in bottles. While paid dumping sites and paid collection services are used by the majority, about a quarter of the waste is disposed directly in the settlement, in drainages or in rivers.
Most respondents work in construction or in a factory, with a quarter of those jobs being informal. One advantage of living in Hlaing Thar Yar is its proximity to factories and construction sites and to Yangon. As wages are low, many families borrow money (mostly from money lenders as money is needed urgently) and are currently in debt, with only about a third having savings. Usually, families do not have other sources of income and when they do it is usually in the form of remittances. Such financial difficulties lead many families to feel vulnerable in an already challenging and uncertain environment. Despite all that, respondents are willing to contribute with money and time for the upgrading of their house and community.
Safety is important from a quantifiable perspective, based, for example, on the number of crimes in the area but also from a subjective perspective as respondents’ views on safety will influence their decisions of when, where and how to go out, which in turn might limit their ability to access services, jobs and affect their social life as a whole.
Hlaing Thar Yar is often portrayed in the media as a violent area. The survey showed that 7% of all respondents do not feel safe at all in their area and a higher proportion do not feel, to some extent, safe. A higher proportion of respondents, 16%, have been, or know, victims of crimes. The difference between women and men was not significant. While crime might not be as rampant as sometimes presented in the media, it is not uncommon and lead to a feeling of unsafety.
Despite all the challenges, respondents said they are happy in their community and believe they are united. As mentioned above, representatives of two local organizations thought the communities were not united and few people volunteered in activities for the public good. According to household respondents, the most common activities they took part were paving road and digging drains.
The last topic discussed in the report relates to future needs of the community and willingness to contribute to upgrading. Nearly all respondents plan to stay where they are and about half have already done some kind of upgrading to their houses, mostly on roofs, floors, sanitation system and walls. Land tenure is key for further improvements. The upgrading of the community would also greatly encourage families to improve their homes. The main priorities for the community are drainage system, roads and security, and respondents are willing to support the improvement of their community with money and/or time even more so among households currently in debt. A significant part of all respondents, however, worry that the upgrading of their community might increase their chances of being removed or that there will not be enough space for all houses.
Approximately 370,000 people, or 7% of Yangon’s population live in informal settlements and resettlement areas according to prior UN-Habitat mapping, facing issues with land tenure security, limited access to basic services such as electricity, water, waste disposal and health facilities, and houses are often situated in geographically and environmentally sensitive areas.
Located in the western part of Yangon, Hlaing Thar Yar is one of the biggest and most populated townships, featuring the highest number of informal settlements, in total 181, with approximately 24,865 households and a population size of 124,325. Hlaing Thar Yar has gone through different development phases starting as an urban area with a few villages and paddy fields three decades ago, becoming the focus of relocation of government workers and disaster victims in the late 1980s and experiencing population boosts since 1993 with the development of industrial zones in the township. In 2008, many people were displaced as a result of Cyclone Nargis settled in Hlaing Thar Yar.
UN-Habitat, aiming to provide safer and more inclusive human settlements for all people, is cooperating with the Yangon Regional Government (YRG), specifically the Chief Minister, in order to find durable solutions for households living in informal settlements. UN-Habitat, with grant support from the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is implementing the Yangon Informal Settlements – Resettlement Programme (YIS-RP) with the goal of mitigating resettlement risks and increase protection for resettled households.
To this end UN-Habitat commissioned Myanmar Survey Research (MSR) to conduct a second study in Hlaing Thar Yar to assess the possible upgrading of settlements in five informal settlements, including the community’s willingness to participate in such upgrading activities and their priorities for improvement, following a participatory approach. The survey included an extensive household survey, focus-group discussions (FGDs), in-depth interviews (IDIs) with ward administrators and community organizations. The survey also gives a comprehensive overview about the history of the settlements, the current household and community situation and analyzes the possible upgrading of individual dwellings as well as the willingness of settlers to engage in community development. Overall, well-known facts about Hlaing Thar Yar are confirmed, community viewpoints uncovered, and new insights collected relating to the need, priorities and willingness to upgrade the informal settlements in Hlaing Thar Yar.