Land issues and natural disasters: introducing a new guidance for practitioners

by Esteban Leon

Much has been written and discussed in recent years about land issues by persons both expert and not so expert (and I include myself in the last group). However, in spite of the new literature, on-going debates, and variety of recommendations on issues such as land use and planning, land access, land administration and security of tenure, land remains one of the most controversial and challenging components of sustainable recovery from disasters.

In recent years, the humanitarian community has looked inward, learning from their past experiences providing emergency responses for the ever-increasing number of populations suffering from crises worldwide.  The humanitarian reform process has helped broaden the community of practitioners, reinforced global and country-based coordination systems, and initiated new and better means of ensuring integrated and robust humanitarian programming among concerned agencies.

“Natural disasters” are the consequence of natural hazards impacting human vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities are ‘built’ by many different factors, and exacerbated by the lack of applied disaster risk reduction programming. Good land use planning and regulation could have minimized the effects of many of the disasters the world has suffered in the last decades. Good land use planning and regulation would have also facilitated the recovery of affected communities from disasters. Nowhere has this been more evident that in the devastating disaster Haiti recently suffered and the world has witnessed.

Recognizing the rights of communities affected by natural disasters (to non-discriminatory access to property, to adequate housing including security of tenure, etc), UN-HABITAT together with FAO and as part of a framework response prepared by the IASC Cluster Working Group on Early Recovery (CWGER) have produced a guidance for practitioners on “Land and Natural Disasters”.  The main objective of the Guidelines is to provide an approach for addressing land issues in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, facilitating early recovery and reconstruction of affected communities from the earliest opportunity.

These Guidelines outline an analytical framework to understand land issues in post-disaster contexts by providing guidance for specific humanitarian sectors, describing possible responses to land issues, and identifying potential tools adapted to specific country contexts. The Guidelines also identify key measures that can help reducing future risks to disasters from a land perspective, and contains short case studies illustrating practical aspects of bringing land issues into post-disaster processes.

From these, a number of essential messages emerge. One invaluable message could be that the survivors of a crisis must be given every opportunity to engage in their own recovery. No longer should disaster affected people be treated as liabilities or as “beneficiaries” but as people with rights lost as a result of some crisis beyond their control.  This has significant implications for many approaches to post-disaster response.

Another important message is that without immediate strategic planning addressing land use, tenure, livelihoods, and critical services in addition to other essential issues, there is a danger that temporary solutions become permanent, and loss of opportunity to address the risks and vulnerabilities that may have exacerbated the crisis.

Finally, the most important overall message that should be captured is that putting affected people first, planning and programming in advance, considering the potential of longer term solutions, and finally, creating space to address land and property based losses immediately following a disaster, all contribute to reducing humanitarian emergency timeframes whilst maximizing potential opportunities for recovery.

There are many more messages in these Guidelines from which the reader will benefit.  You will find an electronic copy of the Guidelines at the www.disasterassessment.org portal, along with  other good resources that we encourage readers to view.

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2 responses to “Land issues and natural disasters: introducing a new guidance for practitioners

  1. Pingback: TN at five months « TerraNullius

  2. Pingback: Week in links – week 10/2011 | TerraNullius

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