Tag Archives: DRR

Week in links – week 42/2011: land disputes in Bolivia, India, Kyrgyzstan and the UK

This week, we have a few updates on recent stories covered in TN:

First, the indigenous protesters marching against the construction of a road through the Tipnis national park in Bolivia have reached the capital La Paz and are settling in to force the Government to negotiate on the issue. Nicholas Fromherz of Foreign Affairs provides an analysis of the tremendous damage the mishandling of this issue has done to President Evo Morales’ credibility.

Having recently taken China to task for its stereotypically stilted response to public outrage over crooked land takings, as well as its stereotypically draconian response to community resistance to being evicted, I am now presented with the classic counter-stereotype in India, where public acquisition of rural land to facilitate large-scale investment is also a pressing issue. Having adopted a new ‘light footprint’ policy on facilitating purchases of land for industrial use after protests last spring and summer, the government of the Uttar Pradesh province now faces a court decision ordering the return of previously acquired land and compensation for parcels investors already built on. Without taking a position on the actual case, it is a classic instance of the great BRIC dichotomy, with India a trickier business environment than China, but frequently for the right reasons.

More dispiriting follow-up to the ethnic mayhem in Kyrgyzstan last year, this time in OpenDemocracy. First, Bruno de Cordier gives a bleak overview of structural violence in Central Asia in the form of rentier politics and patronage societies. Then Elmira Satybaldieva portrays how these patterns are reflected in the fragmented and untransparent politicking in the leadup to Kyrgyzstan’s 30 October elections. With the land disputes and other grievances underlying last year’s violence still unresolved, the prognosis is worrisome.

FAO has described how Sweden, notwithstanding its past ambiguity on the right to water, is funding a highly innovative scheme to help farmers in eastern Kenya develop greater resilience in the face of climate instability, in part through better water management techniques. IRIN, for its part, reports on how poorly Kenya fares in general in advance mitigation of disasters, whether of the natural variety or man-made examples such as last month’s appalling pipeline fire.

And just to recall that housing and land issues remain relevant in the Global North, the New York Times reports on the messy beginnings of the eviction of a traveler community from the Dale Farm encampment they have occupied for years in Essex, UK – while the Guardian documents the surprisingly peaceful end of the process. On OpenDemocracy, Justin Baidoo-Hackman explores the issue of whether the evictions qualify as ethnic cleansing (my take: forced evictions are already plenty bad).

IFRC meeting on post-disaster shelter issues

An invitation to TN readers that may find themselves in Geneva next Wednesday, July 20 – I’ll be co-facilitating an expert group meeting together with Geoffrey Payne on “addressing regulatory barriers to meeting the emergency and transitional shelter needs of people affected by disasters” and would welcome the participation of those of you have had occasion to work on and ponder these issues.

The aim of the meeting is to help the Disaster Law Programme at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to peer review both its current understandings of obstacles to post-disaster shelter and of practices proven to be effective in overcoming them in order to develop a set of recommendations for consideration at the 31st International Conference of the IFRC next November.

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Week in links – week 12/2011

The current march of historic events continues apace with the aftermath of the Sendai quake still causing headlines and a new chapter in the annals of R2P being written in the skies over Libya. Quite a few bits of less dramatic but very interesting HLP-related news as well, many detailed below.

Some interesting things coming up on TN as well – in addition to a number of individual guest-postings currently in the works, I am very excited to announce that Landesa has offered to periodically cross-post pieces from their excellent Field Focus blog. Look out for a debut piece early this week.

Turning to the news, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) just released their global overview for 2010. The conclusions are sobering, with a new rise in overall conflict-related internal displacement and the consolidation of a number of negative trends such as protracted displacement situations and displacement due to generalized violence (e.g. criminal activities as opposed to ordinary armed conflict).

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, recently submitted his annual report, this year with a plug for ‘agroecology’ – a cultivation technique identified by Mr. De Schutter after an “extensive review of the scientific literature” as most likely to help states “achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable and that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food.” Kudos to Mr. De Schutter for sparing the rest of us the scientific literature and moving the debate over global agriculture in an interesting new direction.

In the wake of the triple catastrophe in Japan, the New York Times reports on how much of the affected coast was inhabited by elderly persons unlikely to rebuild. In the clinical terminology of climate change, the obvious question is whether the abandonment of many of these obliterated towns and villages will ultimately come to be seen as a form of adaptation to be replicated in other parts of the world. As the Times notes, it is hardly the first time the question has come up:

“We faced exactly the same question after Katrina,” said John Campbell, [a] visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo. “There was a big discussion about whether we should rebuild the Ninth Ward, since it was below sea level, and so on. In terms of economic rationality, it didn’t make any sense, really. But on the other hand, it’s where these people lived, and there were emotional reasons to do it.

Meanwhile the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its mid-term review, halfway through the ten year period envisioned for implementation of the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action. In an almost morbid quirk of timing, the document was released two days before the catastrophe in Japan, rendering its calls for greater attention to disaster risk eerily antiquated: “…the Hyogo Framework for Action is the world’s only blueprint for staving off losses caused by natural hazards, often overshadowed by news on losses from war, unemployment or inflation.” With all due respect to Col. Ghadafi’s current bout of attention-seeking, this shouldn’t be an issue now.

After quite a lot of coverage earlier this year, the renewed efforts to achieve land restitution in Colombia fell off TN’s radar somewhat. However, things seem to be moving forward – here, NPR reports on how some land has already been returned to displaced owners (it is unclear on what basis this has occurred) as well as on how restitution remains tied to broader agricultural reform goals.

Finally, having cited EurasiaNet earlier on the lengths gone to by Azerbaijan’s IDPs to avoid locally integrating in order to maintain their prospects for return, I have now found a companion piece on Transitions OnLine on how far Armenians in contested territories will go in order to maintain their competing claims:

The people here acknowledge that life in villages is difficult and boring, especially when there is no electricity. But they persevere. “This land needs to be tended,” Khachatryan says. “My children have to plant trees, harvest crops, and have children here to understand this is the homeland and it needs to be kept,” Khachatryan says, lighting the oil lamp with care.

Week in links – week 10/2011

First, the weblog equivalent of a moment of silence for the victims of the ongoing disaster in Japan. Six years after their adoption and sixteen years after the similarly devastating Kobe quake that gave rise to them, the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction face a gruesomely concrete field test.

Second, on an administrative note, I should announce a likely hiatus in TN postings over the next ten days or so, during which I will be on mission in West Africa. I hope that a few guest-postings may land during that period (and they will be rushed to press) but its likely to be pretty quiet here otherwise.

Moving to news, UN housing rights rapporteur Raquel Rolnik focused on the right to housing in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction settings in her latest annual report. While I have not yet had the chance to review the report in detail, it is interesting to note that the press release focuses heavily on land rights for affected persons. From this perspective, there is likely to be some overlap with last year’s humanitarian guidance on post-disaster land issues (posted on by Esteban Leon here).

The FAO has released a new report on gender equality in agriculture that focuses on women’s unequal access to the various economic opportunities and inputs that would let them compete with men – and the enormous price tag of such bias in a hungry world where women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. If TN readers are willing to overlook one appalling pun (“a level ploughing field”), they will find much of interest.

The New York Times followed up on articles from October  2010 and January of this year with a more recent piece on the complications faced by NATO troops in Afghanistan attempting to compensate villagers for property destroyed in the course of counter-insurgency fighting.

Finally, following up on last week’s posting on the Economist’s special report on agriculture, I should point out that my plug for this week’s corresponding report on ‘property’ may have been a case of irrational exuberance. The new special report is a fascinating read on property as an investment, the ostensible safety of which appears increasingly fragile in an era of recurrent bubbles. Of great interest to me, but perhaps more in my capacity as a mortgage-holder in one of Europe’s few remaining bubble candidates than as a blogger.

Haiti early recovery linked to turning the corner in the countryside

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two months on from Haiti’s earthquake, the practical contours of a strategy to find durable solutions for the displaced appears to be taking shape. In essence, the plan seems to be to work from the establishment of safe transitional shelter sites toward permanent reintegration of those who remained in Port au Prince and other affected towns, on one hand, while seeking to provide an economic basis for those who left the towns to remain in the countryside, on the other. Whether or not this approach can now be said to represent an explicit article of international and Haitian government policy, the building blocks are clearly being put in place.

Judging from the latest OCHA situation report, increasingly targeted interventions may be yielding some encouraging results. A March 12 IASC contingency planning meeting brought together international, government and civil society actors to identify at-risk groups and “gaps where preparedness is needed in anticipation of the rainy/hurricane seasons.” Two days later, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes visited Haiti to assess humanitarian relief efforts. An international donor meeting will take place at the New York UN Headquarters at the end of March in order to secure funding for an impressive list of needs including schools, infrastructure, roads and power, as well as assistance to cover the government’s payroll for teachers, police, doctors, nurses, civil servants and basic services.

Shelter materials have been provided to some 63% of those in need and the shift from general food distribution to food and cash for work schemes is set to be scaled up next month. Child protection measures and monitoring of gender-based violence in camps are also being expanded, along with vaccinations, nutrition programs, health interventions and efforts to provide clean water and sanitation. Schools are slated to reopen in April. However, the question of securing safe and legally secure transitional shelter sites appears to be becoming more acute as the rainy season approaches:

The relocation of 200,000 persons currently displaced in high risk settlements requires a minimum of 600 ha. So far 220 ha have been identified by the Government. Of the five sites that were identified by the Government for relocation, two have been secured and surveyed. MINUSTAH will soon start works in Tabarre Issa. The other three sites are still under negotiation.


There are still insufficient human resources for site planning and development as well as of Social Engineering staff to facilitate the movement of the population to the new sites. The lack of new land allocation is of concern in respect [of the] imminent raining season.

Outside of the towns, the FAO reports in a new press release that ongoing seed distributions currently targeting 180,000 smallholder farming families are meant to be complemented with longer horizon programs supporting reforestation, increased food production and community watershed management. The short term objective of these programs is to speed an exit from large-scale food aid, but the longer term goals are set in ambitious terms as the creation of a “greener, more productive Haiti”. Critically, the PR notes that these goals are meant not only to benefit the settled rural population but also the more recent influx of urban IDPs:

During his visit, [FAO Head] Diouf and Minister [of Agriculture] Gue signed the Leogane Declaration, signaling the commitment of FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development to work together on short-, medium- and long-term programmes aimed at increasing food production, supporting the integration of displaced populations in rural areas and building a revitalized, sustainable Haitian agriculture sector and promoting long-term investment.

However, this strategy involves a high-stakes up front gamble. If agricultural production cannot be ramped up quickly enough during the next weeks and months, food insecurity will likely result not only for those displaced from the capital but also the host families they currently depend on. The latest OCHA report described the precarious situation of rural host families, based on a recent survey by CRS:

Approximately 78% of respondents reported hosting an average of 5.6 displaced persons. This has put an enormous strain on household coping strategies with the vast majority of households eating less, selling belongings (including possessions, livestock, grain reserves) changing their diet, and using trees to make charcoal.

The assessment reveals that the pressure on host families has compelled farmers to make changes in their normal agricultural practices.  Farmers are now reducing some inputs such as fertilizer and tillage. They are also shifting to short season crops and prefer lower cost seeds (such as maize) while avoiding high cost seeds (such as bean). Overall, although land cropped remains the same, the land being cropped per household member has dropped dramatically. According to analysis made by CRS, these new trends could result in a dramatic drop in household income and increase food security.

In a separate press release, FAO describes a recent appeal by its Director-General, Jacques Diouf, for an integrated rural development programme in Haiti to be funded through the dedication of a portion of the $20 billion pledged for farmers in poor countries  by the G-8 leaders in Italy last July. While it is likely that this proposal will receive a sympathetic hearing at the upcoming donors’ conference, the fate of an agriculture-centric early recovery plan may hang in the balance in the next few months.

Given the current difficulties in providing safe transitional shelter for those IDPs who remained in towns, crop failures could provoke a disaster in the form of further influxes, both of returning urban IDPs and new migrants from the countryside. Long poor and neglected, Haiti now finds itself in the extraordinary position of entering the second decade of the 21st century with its  fortunes standing or falling on the outcome of a single growing season.

Earthquake in Chile

The first quarter of 2010 will not soon be forgotten soon in the Americas. The effects of the two catastrophic earthquakes that occurred in Haiti and Chile in the space of about two months will take years, if not decades, to address. There is also a grim regularity to the events that serves as an ungentle reminder of the way in which the frequency and severity of natural disasters worldwide has shot up in the last years. The Chile quake hit just as the Haiti quake was getting far enough behind us to have seeped out of the headlines and settled into its own new Wikipedia entry.

The difference between the effects of the respective quakes also serves as a very timely reminder of one of the central imperatives of disaster risk reduction – the need to focus on human vulnerability and increase human resilience. The fact that the death toll appears to have been so much lower in Chile despite the more forceful quake there speaks volumes. So do some of the vignettes from the New York Times article I read this morning that indicate levels of government capacity and social trust that contrast strongly with earlier reports on the initial absence of the police and later arbitrariness (e.g., handing alleged looters over to lynch mobs) in Port au Prince:

The police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of people who forced their way into shuttered shops in the southern city of Concepción, which was devastated. But law enforcement authorities, heeding the cries of residents that they lacked food and water, eventually settled on a system that allowed staples to be taken but not televisions and other electronic goods.

[President] Bachelet later announced that the government had reached a deal with supermarket chains to give away food to needy residents.


The earthquake, one of the strongest in recorded history, left a devastating footprint on a country that knows quakes well.

Residents of a collapsed 15-story apartment building in Concepción, opened just months ago, were outraged that it had been so badly damaged and were convinced that contractors had not complied with building codes that require buildings to be able to withstand temblors. Already, there was talk among residents of taking builders to court once the emergency is over.

Chile will probably not require nearly as much international assistance to recover from its quake as Haiti. Indeed, while it is crucial that appropriate international assistance be sent to Chile, one hopes that the disaster there will not distract donors and early recovery actors from the critical long-term needs of the Haitian population.

NYT on earthquakes and urbanization

First, on an administrative note, sorry about the recent gap in postings! Its lots of fun blogging but when the wife is on a business trip and the kids come down with a fever, its inevitably one of the first things to go out the window. Temporarily. I have a number of interesting posts in the works, including the long-promised analysis of the new Durable Solutions Framework for IDPs.

In the meantime, it had just occurred to me this morning to wonder when journalists might begin to devote their attention to the many cities (and megacities) beyond Port au Prince that are sitting perilously close to geological fault-lines. Ten minutes later, I opened up the New York Times to discover an article on earthquakes and urbanization that was both terrifying (experts estimate that a quake on Haiti’s scale would kill up to one million people in Tehran) and hopeful, particularly in its detailed description of comprehensive disaster risk reduction measures underway in Istanbul since 2006.