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15,000 people live an ‘imperial’ life in Hue slum

On the Hue imperial citadel, a World Heritage monument, thousands live in squalid conditions that they’re eager to escape.
An estimated 15,000 people suffer severe weather conditions with scant protection, and live amidst squalor and pollution that they add to, not having recourse to normal amenities like toilets, bathrooms and stable roofs and walls.

The slum stands in what is known as Hue Relic Area 1.

For several decades, people have built their houses right on Thuong Thanh in Thuan Thanh Ward, Hue City, a “strictly preserved relic.”

According to the Center for Conservation of Hue Imperial Citadel, Area 1 of the imperial city has about 4,200 households with more than 15,700 members seriously infringing on the monument. There are four wards in the citadel, Thua Loc, Thuan Thanh, Thuan Hoa and Tay Loc, that house 2,410 households.

The 12km moat built in 1805 by the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), the last in Vietnam’s feudal history, is now home to 1,790 households in Phu Binh, Phu Hoa, and Phu Thuan wards. Many houses like the one in this picture are loosely and precariously constructed. Such constructions are illegal, but they are common in Phu Hoa Ward.

72 year-old Tran Hoa and his family have spent their life in Thuong Thanh since 1970. They still live in a house without a proper roof over their head.

“We want to build a strong home, but the government does not allow it because our house is located on the relic. We don’t have money to move elsewhere. We don’t have a certificate of house ownership for this house, so borrowing money from the bank is not an option,” Hoa said.

Houses in Thuong Thanh are all makeshift structures without proper roofs. Most lean on the citadel wall. Residents here are exposed to harsh weather conditions. These old car tires and sandbags are stacked on by some of the residents to protect themselves during stormy weather.

The makeshift homes in Thuong Thanh are separated by narrow alleys.

People living here discharge trash and wastewater down the citadel’s walls, damaging it and polluting the environment, but they have no choice.

This is a 10-square meter house where the four-member family of Nguyen Van Bieu lives. Located in Thanh Loc Ward, the house does not have clean water or a toilet. The space is so small that Bieu has to leave furniture, clothes and other home appliances outside.

Inside another 10-square meter house in Thuan Loc Ward.

50-year-old Vo Huu Tung only wants the Government to arrange some land for him to build a new home. He has lived in Thuong Thanh for nearly three decades. “It is polluted, and everyone here wants to leave as soon as possible,” Tung said.

The over one-meter tall citadel wall makes it difficult for residents to get to their houses on Ong Ich Khiem Street, so many households have built concrete ladders to their makeshift homes.

Local authorities have plans to relocate the residents of Hue Relic Area 1. The tentative budget for this project is more than VND4,000 billion (nearly $172 million), of which VND2,800 billion ($120 million) will be spent on land clearance. Establishing a new residential area is projected to cost about VND1,400 billion ($60.1 million).