'We can't wait to get out of here': This is how life goes in Saigon slums

By Thanh Nguyen   November 29, 2016 | 11:59 am GMT+7

Thousands of migrant workers and their families cram themselves in shabby shelters along the city's canals.

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Rapid urbanization in Vietnam’s southern commercial hub has resulted in large pockets of urban slums where thousands of migrant workers and their families cram themselves in shabby tin-roofed shelters.

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The city’s construction authorities said there are more than 20,000 substandard houses stretching dozens of kilometers along the city’s canals, mainly located in districts 4, 7, 9 and Binh Thanh.

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“I have been living here for half of my life. I can’t afford to renovate my house,” said To Thuy Tuyet Mai, who lives in a tiny home with one room the size of about three king-size beds, in an alleyway in District 4.

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Nguyen Thi Le and her family of six live in a 20 square-meter home along the Te canal. “The city announced plans to remove houses along the canal. We have been waiting since then,” Le said, adding that life in the slum is hard due to poor conditions and pollution.

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These houses are made from pieces of corrugated cement sheets and cardboard boxes. Slum dwellers often live in dirty and cramped conditions, where they have no running water in their homes and have to share squalid bathrooms that are seldom cleaned.

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Ho Chi Minh City started removing shanty houses from its inner-city canals in 1993 and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the mission.

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Recently the city government has tried to enlist the private sector to revive its canals and remove thousands of these makeshift houses. Under the plan, the city will relocate about 20,000 families along the canals by 2020. The city has managed to revive the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal, which runs roughly eight kilometers through seven districts. The effort took around 10 years and cost more than $390 million.

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On rainny days, residents here have to tiptoe on this pathway to move around, said Tran Minh Canh.

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“Nobody wants to live in shabby houses and breathe in polluted air. We can't wait to get out of here,” said 70-year-old Nguyen Van Thanh.

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The areas are not far away from high-rise buildings.

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