KHON KAEN – As countries around the world prepare to celebrate World Habitat Day on October 3, residents of Khon Kaen took to the streets Friday to share their concerns about housing security in their city. The rally began on the steps of the Provincial Hall before participants marched through the streets to the mayor’s office across town.
All of Khon Kaen’s 22 slum communities were represented among the 350 participants in attendance. “We expected at least one person per family from each slum. Our numbers are larger than I expected,” said Ms. Piyamat Noynamkam, assistant director to the Khon Kaen Slum Network (KKSN).
World Habitat Day was established by the United Nations to highlight the basic human right of adequate shelter. Khon Kaen residents took this opportunity to remind their local and provincial leaders of the housing issues they currently face and to ask for assistance in improving their quality of life.
A representative of the governor, Mr. Thanawat Ploysophon, emerged from the Provincial Hall after local and national slum network members delivered their speeches. He formally received the KKSN’s requests, which includes the establishment of a commission headed by the government that works with NGOs to communicate more effectively with slum communities. The KKSN also asked for more information about projects that could potentially affect railside slum communities, such as the high-speed railway that will be constructed in the Northeast over the next few years.
Their final request, the creation of a center for the homeless in the city limits, reflects a growing trend of housing insecurity in Khon Kaen as the city continues to grow as a center of migration for rural farmers looking for work. Mr. Thanawat, standing on the impromptu stage created by rally organizers, ensured participants that he would pass on their concerns to the relevant government agencies.
Khon Kaen Mayor Mr. Piraphol Pattanapiradet made a stronger statement when he addressed the day’s protesters. “If the [high-speed] train project will affect many people I would probably not agree to work with the project’s sponsor. I will always stand by the side of the people. I am willing to fight with you,” Mr. Piraphol said to cheers from the crowd. He also promised to pass on the KKSN’s concerns to the proper parties and to work with the governor to resolve their issues.
While organizers from KKSN were pleased with the turnout Friday, Ms. Piyamat was hesitant to say the day was a success. “We still have to follow up with the government’s promises.”
Indeed one hundred representatives from Khon Kaen slums will do just that when they join an expected crowd of 4,500 in Bangkok on October 3 for Thailand’s national celebration of World Habitat Day. There they hope the new Yingluck administration will make their concerns a top priority.