Response to vulnerabilities of the urban poor

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Working Paper’s Title:

The Case of the Tan Hoa-Lo Gom Canal Sanitation and Urban Upgrading Project.

Tran Thi Thu Hang SB0202
Supervisor: Joao Guimaraes

Second reader: Erhard Berner

Date: October, 2009

Recently Vietnam has been recognized as a sample of development in the Third world accompanied with lifting millions of people out of poverty. This paper aims to review how effective of interventions to reduce poverty in the case of the Tan Hoa-Lo Gom Canal Sanitation and Urban Upgrading Project which was implemented in Ho Chi Minh City from 1996 to 2006. The main concern is about vulnerabilities of the poor, especially in supporting them to maintain and develop their livelihood through socio-economic support programs provided for households who were affected by slum clearance and participation of communities. This research figured out that participatory approach brings about better project implementation and monitoring, also puts the poor in the central stage but is limited in helping the poor deal with daily life difficulties. Furthermore, the paper argues that despite remarkable successes of the project, gradual replacement of the poor at post-project is unavoidable if there is no suitable strategy in restoration and generation income from local government and other stakeholders.





    1. Background

    2. Justification

    3. Objectives

    4. Research questions

Methodology and limitations



  1. Perceptions of urban poverty and vulnerability

  2. Urban upgrading as a response to poverty to expand social services and healthcare to the poor, reduce the marginal and powerless groups

  3. Participatory approach in urban upgrading interventions



  1. Context of urban poverty and participatory planning in poverty alleviation policy in Ho Chi Minh City

      1. Overall picture of urban poverty in HCMC

      2. Participatory planning in poverty alleviation policy in Ho Chi Minh City

  1. The Tan Hoa - Lo Gom Canal Sanitation and Urban Upgrading Project

  2. The case of resettlement subproject and key achievements

      1. The resettlement in-situ subproject

      2. The resettlement in-situ subproject brings about better lives for PAPs

      1. Better and stable shelter for security, weather, activities (no flooding, leaking) with less repairing costs

      2. More accessible and affordable water and electricity, telephone

      3. Official ownership issued and house value increased

      4. Environmental issues and health

      5. Institutional strengthening and micro-credit program

      1. Factors contributed to the success of the case



  1. Livelihood of the poor before the TH-LG projects:

  2. Income generation for the poor – expectation and outcomes







I would like to express my gratitude to all those who gave me the possibility to complete this work.

Firstly I am grateful to the Faculty of Urban Planning and Design of HCMCUARC and UEPP, especially Mr. Joris Van Etten for supporting me to study in ISS.

I would like to thank Mrs. Huynh Thi Ngoc Tuyet, Ms. Trinh Thi Tuyet Mai for their enthusiasm and help in my field work; they also provided me very useful secondary data of the case. I am thankful to Mrs. Le Dieu Anh and Mrs. Nga for their precious time for answering my interview.

I want to thank the authorities of District 6, Ho Chi Minh City for giving me permission to commence the survey at the field. I have furthermore to thank the steering committee of Lo Gom apartment who helped me in arranging meeting with all interviewed households.

I am deeply indebted to my supervisor Mr. Joao Guimaraes whose help, stimulating suggestions and encouragement helped me in all the time of research for and writing of this paper.

I would like to say many thanks to Mr. Erhard Berner and my classmates in LRD for their valuable comments on my work so that I am able to develop the research better.

My friends from Vietnam and Den Haag supported me during the time of doing research; I want to thank them all for their time and efforts in helping and encouraging me to overcome difficulties at the field and in Rome where I was in serious trouble. To Mrs. Thanh Dam, who kindly allowed me to stay with her family, I am indebted to her because without her opportune helps I was not able to settle for writing my paper.

I am also indebted to ISS, especially to Mrs. Ank V Berge and Mr. Freek Schiphol for their great help in all administrative procedures and financial supports so that I can recover to keep on my work successfully.

Finally, I would like to give my special thanks to my mother Mrs. Hoang Thi Chinh and this work is dedicated to her.

ATS Administrative and Technical Specifications

BTC Belgian Technical Co-operation

CBO Community Based Organisation

CEP Capital Aid Fund for Employment of the Poor

D.BT District Binh Tan

DGDC Directorate General for Development Co-operation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), previously DGIC

DoF Department of Finance

HCMC Ho Chi Minh City

MDGs Millennium Development Goals

MUHL Management Unit for Housing Loans

NEZ New Economic Zones

ODA Official Development Assistance

PAP Project Affected People

PC HCMC People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City

PMU 415 Project Management Unit in charge of the project “Extension phase of Tan Hoa - Lo Gom canal sanitation and urban upgrading”

SC Steering Committee

SWT Social Worker(s) Team

THLG Tan Hoa – Lo Gom (Canal or Basin)

THLG project Tan Hoa Lo Gom canal sanitation and urban upgrading

W.11 D.6 Ward 11 of District 6

W.BHHA Ward Binh Hung Hoa A


    1. Background

Over past few decades there are waves of NGOs and international institutions in doing projects of poverty reduction/ environmental upgrading which are strong affected to poor communities in Vietnam. This was encouraged by the Renovation (Doi Moi) Policy, which was started in the mid 1980s, created a more decentralized, democratic and flexible environment of economy and politics. The success and failures of these actions after 20 years of transitional processes have been considered as lessons to improve the country development to be more sustainable and people-centered. However, there were a lot of differences still remaining between theories and implementation processes in reality due to the various contexts at many levels, later questioning the effectiveness and sustainability of interventions.

Confronting with dramatic urbanization and expansion of urban area caused by both development of the city and immigration leading to extremely serious problems connected with population increase and degradation of natural resources, the municipal government of Ho Chi Minh city has been endeavoring in supplying housing and public services to all layers, especially the destitute groups of society as it was given the autonomy from the decentralization of Vietnam. Yet, the privatization of land, increase in land and other services’ prices also weaknesses in public management have prevented the poor to gain benefits from those activities. One of the key interventions is upgrading urban areas focusing on environmental sanitation for the city canal and river system, which has been used as a dumping ground for all the industrial and domestic waste, a dwelling place for the poorest communities, traffic routes for waterway transport and market gardening areas (Jean-Claude Bolay et all, 1997). The typical example is the Environmental Sanitation Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe project which aimed at sustainable improvements in public health, and the well-being of the city's population, through improved reductions in wastewater pollution, and in flood occurrences, as a result of institutional efficiency in the management of drainage, and wastewater services. Nevertheless the impacts to the PAPs evaluated from project assessment document published in 2001 are not satisfactory. The poor relocated could not affordable for higher expenditure for better quality of services and their livelihood had been cut-off because new spaces were not designed for their informal jobs. Consequently the replacement by the middle and higher income groups occurred quickly, while as the poor left to the other canals/ rivers’ banks to create new slum areas. Missing dialogues between stakeholders was underlined as a main source of these failures. At the last years of 20th century, a new approach called “participation” and people-centered was initially applied to mitigate negative affections to PAPs and increasing the long-term effectiveness of projects in HCMC.

From international experiences, “development policy has increasingly focused on poverty reduction since the early 1990s. More recently, the international community has formulated new Millennium goals, each of which centres on a different dimension of poverty. While, as the millennium goals demonstrate, there is a growing consensus on objectives, there is less agreement on how to achieve these goals” (Helmsing, 2005, p. 177). In that sense, community-based planning shows some advancement in attaining MDGs by giving the autonomy to community members in identifying and prioritising the needs, the formulation and ownership of action plans and the role of external facilitators. This participatory approach, which was first implemented in Tan Hoa - Lo Gom area, seemed to be a good method in poverty reduction in Ho Chi Minh city.

Among hundreds of upgrading projects in Vietnam, this project has been considered as a model for others to follow, especially in terms of the participatory model used. An analysis of the roles and the relevance among the actors involved in the project – including the municipal government, the international institution, the lower local authorities and CBOs as well as local people - can show an overall picture of the implementation of new pattern of planning in local development.

    1. Justification

The reports from the World Bank about poverty reduction all around the world indicated that Vietnam has found out its own way to develop industry and economy at the same time as decreasing the rate of poverty and raising the quality of life for the poor. Hence, this research may throw light on some interesting innovations in poverty reduction at local level and contribute to the understanding of local development in developing countries through the case of TH-LG. Using empirical and comparative approaches, the research aims to figure out the achievements as well as the failures of the project, focusing on the vulnerabilities of the poor before and after project, so as then to be able to propose practical and compatible solutions, suitable to Vietnamese specific circumstances and to Ho Chi Minh city context in particular.

    1. Objectives and scope of the research

The Tan Hoa – Lo Gom project was carried out at three areas (Binh Hung Hoa ward, Binh Tan district – ward 11 – district 6, wards 3, 4, 7, 8 - district 6) with 6 interventions as waste water treatment plant, sites and services, apartments resettlement site, upgrading area, canal embankment, solid waste management. The research focuses on the subproject called resettlement project at the site of ward 11, district 6 because it is the most preferred action and high potential of replication for coming urban upgrading in HCMC. In addition, resettlement on site was strongly expected by both sides – the PAPs and outsiders, and recommended by WB in its upgrading theory. The number of households is 72 which is suitable in term of time constraint and requirements for a research paper.

TH-LG project tried to avoid the failures of previous urban poverty reduction projects which resettled slum dwellers in another plots far from their current living places that caused the corruption of livelihood of the poor by relocating poor people in the same living place (in-situ resettlement) to make sure that they would still be able to preserve their networks, and not to destroy their advantages in term of distance from their living places to working places. There are, however, indications that the poor have been confronting new difficulties after the project. The objectives of this research are:

    1. To carry out an in depth study of the project aimed at figuring out strengths as well as weaknesses in its design and implementation, and how much this contributed to local development in term of improving local people’s well-being and reducing vulnerabilities.

    2. Analysing and finding the factors which have contributed to TH-LG Project’s successes and failures.

    3. Making some recommendations to improve the effectiveness of upgrading process in the context of Ho Chi Minh City so that the quality of life of PAPs will not be affected negatively.

    1. Research questions:

Main questions:

  1. How has the project affected the poor, especially in terms of their vulnerabilities?

  2. Which aspect within vulnerabilities framework should be most paid attention in the context of HCMC particularly?

Sub questions:

  1. Who were the main actors involved in the project? Who was the target group that the project aimed at?

  2. What were their relationships and different roles in term of power relations?

  3. Was there any gap between the objectives of the project and the needs of the poor?

  4. How effective was the participatory intervention of project to existing communities in implementation and in maintenance?

  5. What were the main sources of livelihoods for the poor in this area, before and after the project?

  6. Which factors contributed to the successes and failures of the project?

    1. Methodology:

The research focuses on a real case where poor people are giving chances to attain better lives. The project finished in 2006 but local communities are going on with their daily activities. Are they able to sustain the fruits from the projects and does the project achieve its objectives? Some insights into the current life of local people, understanding deeply how the communities organize themselves and what is happening after the project, what are means for their livelihood will be useful and practical. Thus, both quantitative and qualitative data should be used..

  1. Primary Data:

  • Observation:

It is very important to have an overall picture of what is happening at the site of the project, especially the physical and environmental improvement, daily activities, observable relations between people as customers and small enterprises, as members of communities, households as well as observable interactions between communities and society.

For asset based approach, observation can be useful in term of identifying who are the poor and how poor they are, also able to recognize the diversity of assets.

  • Semi-structured interviews and questionnaires (see annex 6 and 7)

This method of survey is used for grassroots organizations that participated in the projects to figure out their roles and level of participation in the processes. More important, assessment the success of the project through their point of view, based on their vulnerabilities and multi-dimensional approach. The number of households are 72 which is small size and therefore possible to be interviewed to every household.

This is also applied to local people that participated or did not participate in the processes to explore the changes in their lives and livelihood after the project.

Officials from People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City and Belgian Technical Cooperation that were in charge of the project play an important role in giving information about advantages and disadvantages that they confronted during project’s implementation period. This method can give more opportunities to explore more about the connections among actors involved. Moreover, the possible differences between objectives formulated from bottom and from the top of system could be found.

  1. Secondary Data are collected from official website of Tan Hoa - LoGom project (follow this link and documents of assessment from PAD (The Architecture and Planning Department of Ho Chi Minh city) and from the City Council of Ho Chi Minh city which is also provided by PAD.

Challenges and limitations:

The paper is ambitious in attempt on looking through the case at all stages of project circle and various aspects from CBO’s structure to management of bilateral institutions because of the time constraint and a large number of documents of the eight-year process are necessary to be studied. Though the fieldwork had been done well the results of the research is limited by unexpected lost of primary data right before the time of starting the writing part.

Moreover as the scope of a research paper, this research focuses on one among three areas of the process which are internally connected hence this might lead to missing of some relevant factors. At the sense of sustainability, longer duration researches must be conducted to study carefully about the continuous impacts of the whole process as the post project evaluation then it is possible to find out the good way of carrying out coming urban upgrading interventions at Ho Chi Minh city particularly and in Vietnam generally.


From the context of the case study, the research will be based on two main bodies of theory – urban poverty alleviation and urban upgrading which participatory approach is a required tool for upgrading interventions. These theories provide tools to analyze/ assess the situation of area and implemented processes of Tan Hoa –Lo Gom project. First, the overall picture of impacts from the project through vulnerability framework should be studied carefully, and then focus on the aspect of sustainability of the project.

    1. Perceptions of urban poverty and vulnerability

One of two main general objectives of the project is dealing with urban poverty. Hence, the theories dealing with urban poverty and poverty reduction will provide the foundation knowledge to analyze the situation of poverty within study fields before and after Tan Hoa –Lo Gom project.

“Most definitions associate poverty with a “lack” or “deficiency” of the necessities required for human survival and welfare […]The term “urban poverty” is often used specifically to refer to concentrations of deprivation in inner-city areas or peripheral social housing estates” (Wratten, 1995). Yet urban poverty is not just about severely lack of housing for the poor that leads to unstable life, “poverty in urban settings is recognized as a multi-dimensionality and multi-causality phenomenon and emphasizes vulnerability as a key concept” (Berner, 2005). Furthermore, the failure of conception of poverty as low consumption during 1990s proved that “many reasons were given for increasing hardship, revealing that poverty is not just about low incomes, but also about high expenditures, precarious livelihoods, poor health, lack of education, unsafe and unhygienic housing, limited social networks, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor” (Huynh Thi Tuyet Mai, Trinh Ho Ha Nghi, Bill Tods, 2003). Then the vulnerability and its management has been brought into the centre stage (World Bank, 2000/01)

In the urban context, poverty and vulnerability (a dynamic concept whereby the “vulnerable” face the risk of falling into poverty) can be related to three distinctive characteristics of urban life: commoditization (reliance on the cash economy), environmental hazard (stemming from the density and hazardous location of settlements and from exposure to multiple pollutants), and social fragmentation (lack of community and of inter-household mechanisms for social security, compared to those in rural areas) (Moser, Gatehouse, and Garcia 1996b).

It can be confused about these two concepts that can be similar to each other but “vulnerability is not synonymous with poverty, but means defenselessness, insecurity and exposure to risk, shocks and stress. It is linked with assets, such as human investment in health and education, productive assets including houses and domestic equipment, access to community infrastructure, stores of money, jewelry and gold, and claims on other households, patrons, the government and the international community for resources in times of need. While poverty (measured by income) can be reduced by borrowing, such debt makes the poor more vulnerable. Chambers points out that poor people have a horror of debt, and are more aware than professionals of the trade-offs between poverty and vulnerability” (Chambers, 1989)

Box 2.1 Asset vulnerability (Moser, 1998)

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