Improving development outcomes and reducing disaster risk through planned community relocation

09:00 Thursday 30 May

SS037 • OC220

Room S2


John Handmer (Australia) 2; Johanna Nalau (Australia) 1

1 - Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith Institute for Tourism, School of Environment and Science, Griffith University; 2 - Mathematics & Geospatial Science, School of Science, College of Science, Engineering & Health, RMIT University


The idea of relocation as a transformative disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation, and development strategy follows the assumption that relocation reduces the vulnerability of communities. Yet, it is unclear whose and what kind of vulnerability is reduced through relocation, and which factors are important in determining the ‘success’ of relocation efforts as strategies for development, climate change adaptation (CCA), and disaster risk reduction (DRR). This presentation explores the notable differences between CCA and DRR communities and how they treat planned community relocation. We use examples mainly from the Pacific Small Island Developing States where past relocations have been numerous.


The methods underpinning this study included literature review, and also our shared experiences in researching relocation processes in the Pacific region. We looked for case studies in particular in the literature that reported on both benefits and challenges in relocating communities as part of disaster risk reduction and evacuation measures. This literature also included examples of adaptation limits where the community no longer is able to move back to the original place of living.


We found that CCA and DRR use different timescales and focal points regarding relocation: CCA focuses on future mass permanent relocation and the subsequent potential loss of cultures and identities mainly due to projected sea level rise. The DRR community focuses on temporary relocation as a way to reduce exposure to a range of hazards, although it is also involved in permanent movement as a transformative way to reduce risk and enhance development. Relocation does not necessarily always reduce the vulnerability of a community simply from physically moving people to a new location. People’ s vulnerability can increase due to the way in which new settlements are planned and designed (or are not), and the kinds of impacts that this has on people’s livelihoods and resource access. In a changing climatic context, DRR needs to in particular consider how permanent relocation is used as a risk reduction strategy.


Better understanding and articulation of the underlying assumptions and preferences in CCA, DRR, and development discourses on planned community relocation could provide a richer context for future planning and dealing with both slow-onset and sudden disasters. One approach could be to use destination vulnerability and exposure assessments, which consider new and potential emerging risks for the to-be-relocated community in the area of the suggested relocation.