Relocation is often suggested as a solution to disaster risk, but there are serious problems associated with it (see also Chapter 17, which discusses relocation after a disaster). Relocation to less hazardous areas is effective in reducing physical risks, but overlooks other important factors that cause vulnerable people to occupy hazardous land. People settle in hazardous locations for a variety of reasons, usually related to livelihoods and access to services. Relocation schemes, on the other hand, tend to involve sites on the edges of cities. Land may be more readily available and affordable here, but jobs and many other facilities are not. For this reason, relocation is often resisted. There may be a suspicion that the relocation of communities to safer sites is being used as a means of clearing land for commercial development – this was a contentious issue in both Thailand and Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, for example. There are also instances of people selling or renting out their new, relocated, homes and returning to their former properties. Handled sensitively, and with full community participation, relocation can bring benefits, but it is a complex process (see Case Study 13.7: Community participation in relocation).
In November 2007, seasonal rains caused flooding on the Bengawan River in the city of Solo in Indonesia. More than 6,300 riverbank houses were damaged. The high cost of providing emergency services and repairing flood damage led the city’s mayor to decide to relocate at-risk households. To win acceptance for the relocation proposal, the mayor visited the settlements, attending meetings in community centres and listening to local views. Working groups were formed at city and neighbourhood levels; community representatives collected information, investigated alternative sites and presented evidence and ideas to the city government.
Eventually a compensation package was worked out. Households were given cash grants to buy land and to build new houses and shared infrastructure. People were encouraged to find their own plots and negotiate with the owners, and groups of neighbours were encouraged to move together in order to maintain a sense of continuity and social stability. The key element in the package was that the government guaranteed ownership rights over the new plots. A park was also created in the low-lying riverbank area to protect against flooding and provide public green space.
Over five years, 70% of the more than 1,570 families considered at greatest risk were relocated. They were able to move to locations not too far from their old homes, with adequate access to public services and amenities. Some families remained, believing the compensation offered was not enough, but all the families felt that they had been given a choice.
J. Taylor, When Non-climate Urban Policies Contribute To Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change: Lessons Learned from Indonesian Cities (London: IIED, 2013), http://pubs.iied.org/pdfs/10630IIED.pdf.