Often the question is whether villages should be rebuilt in their original locations or relocated to less disaster-prone areas
Earthquakes earlier this year caused massive loss of life and properties in Nepal. It left nearly a million families homeless, and destroyed much of social infrastructure: schools, historical monuments, health posts, water supply systems, and communication and transport networks. Most affected were rural residents. Around 4,000 big and small landslides followed within 200 kilometer east-west stretch of the Gorkha epicenter.
The government has set up National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) to implement reconstruction and rehabilitation programs, with support from various donor agencies. It has also identified settlements that need to be relocated.
Often, the main question before a post-disaster community is whether villages should be rebuilt in their original locations or relocated to less disaster-prone areas. Sometime relocation becomes mandatory because disaster displaces people and renders their houses uninhabitable. Therefore relocation is considered the best option to reduce future vulnerability of disaster victims. But relocation itself is fraught with a number of challenges.
Human settlements have historically evolved in particular locations for economic, political, social and cultural reasons. Relocating settlements solely on the basis of their exposure to natural hazards generally meets with resistance from local communities. This article will explore the impact of post-disaster relocation and its consequences on rural communities. It will also make recommendations to make Nepal’s reconstruction meaningful.
Relocation of a settlement, whether necessitated by natural disasters or military conflicts, has always been difficult. An unofficial survey showed that 90 percent villagers rejected Indian government’s relocation plans after the Gujarat earthquakes of 2001. The plan had to be abandoned and an ‘owner-driven’ reconstruction adopted. Subsequently around 72 percent people built their own homes in the areas of their interest.
Victims of Turkey earthquake (2000) refused to move to new settlements. Experiences from Kashmir earthquake (2005) and Sichuwan earthquake (2007) show relocation is costly and could lead to social upheavals. The denial to move to new places stems from lack of community participation, poor site selection, lack of inter-disciplinary work during site selection and lack of consideration of lifestyles of affected persons.
Case studies show relocation is often not the right solution. Yet it becomes the best option after the disaster because people have been displaced, current location is uninhabitable and relocation can save them from future disasters. Relocation is the right option when the disaster is the result of site-specific vulnerabilities. Informal settlements in urban areas, for instance, are often located on sites where topography makes vulnerabilities impossible to mitigate. Settlements over fault zones and active landslide also pose vulnerabilities that may be impossible to address.
Drawing from these lessons, the National Reconstruction Authority needs to undertake the following steps during reconstruction. First, it should coordinate with appropriate stakeholders and local communities to conduct detailed comparative analysis of disaster management including mitigation at existing settlements. It should work to keep communities together at the existing sites; affected communities should not be relocated unless absolutely necessary. Only if necessary, the NRA should initiate a process for defining policy framework for relocation, the financing plan, the assistance strategy for the relocated, and criteria for household and relocation site selections. The new settlement should not be far from people’s place of origin so that they can recover their social connections quickly.
Second, relocation should be voluntary and the rights of the affected people must be respected. However, finding sites for relocating disaster-affected communities can be a challenge. Unsuitable sites can lead to lost livelihoods, lost sense of community and social capital, cultural alienation, poverty, and people abandoning the sites and returning to their original community. Theses aspects need to be carefully assessed before the decision on relocation. Other mitigation options should be considered. NRA should quantify the population, number of houses and physical properties of people to be relocated.
Third, relocation is successful when communities fully participate. And they will participate when relocation project considers elements such as land-for-land compensation, appropriate housing and settlement layouts, livelihood generation and restoration of community centers. Other important factors are support for community and economic development, food security, transportation, jobs and access to health service and communication.
Thus NRA should consider an appropriate compensation policy, evaluate and recognize all losses, including land, housing, business, income sources and displacement costs and provide compensation to all affected people. Compensation may be provided in different forms: cash, replacement land, small business grant or temporary/permanent project employment so that incomes and livelihoods can be restored. Special attention should be paid to the needs of the socially disadvantaged and vulnerable groups such as dalits, the disabled, ethnic minorities and widows.
Also, the NRA should institute a strong organization to implement resettlement programs, with assistance from community groups and other stakeholders. Systems should be created to effectively monitor and evaluate compensation and resettlement activities. NRA should plan the relocation not only as a means to compensate for property losses but also a way to pursue restoration and increasing income-generating capacity and improving livelihoods of affected people.
World Bank Handbook for Reconstruction after Disasters has recognized following risks of relocation: among other things, difficulties and delays in finding appropriate land; negative socio-economic impacts and disruption of livelihoods leading to low occupancy rates; poor site selection causing negative environmental impacts or recreating vulnerability of original location; and poor construction quality.
Case studies from Turkey, Gujarat (India), Kashmir (Pakistan) and Haiti show people refuse new settlements without proper guidance during the construction phase. NRA should ensure that this does not happen in Nepal.
Relocation, whether short term or long term, is tough. We need to learn from international experience to make our own reconstruction efforts more meaningful. Resettlement should be viewed as a part of the sustainable development program that aims at disaster risk reduction.
The author is a PhD student at the School of Mining & Petroleum Engineering, University of Alberta, Canada
The Article is Published in Republica on 24/2/2016