Land plots in the relocation site, Nuevo Boca de Cachón, Dominican Republic. © 2015 IOM (Photo: Susanne Melde)
Caribbean countries are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, both in the form of sudden-onset disasters (hurricanes, floods) as well as slow onset events such as sea level rise and land degradation. Many Caribbean countries and territories have large percentages of their urban centers and economic activities in low-lying coastal areas, facing specific risks linked to the adverse effects of environmental and climate change. The tourism sector in such Small Island Developing Countries (SIDS) may be severely affected by climate change: “an eventual one-meter sea level rise could partially or fully inundate 29 per cent of 900 coastal resorts in 19 Caribbean countries, with a substantially higher proportion (49–60 per cent) vulnerable to associated coastal erosion”.
Adaptation options in vulnerable areas may be limited. In this light, Caribbean countries have started considering planned relocation as an option in their climate change plans and strategies. The Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of the Bahamas to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which determines the countries commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change, mentions under “adaptation measures undertaken and options” the “relocation of communities from the shoreline” along with other coastal adaptation initiatives (coastal defenses, building codes reform, reverse osmosis facilities). The Bahamas Second National Communication to the UNFCCC also mentions the experience of the relocation of a community on Family Island from the shoreline to new land.
The vulnerability of communities in Haiti to climate change has also raised the attention of policymakers and has led to exploring options for planned relocation. In the Haitian NDC, planned relocation is defined as a potential adaptation measure for populations in coastal areas, calling for a cost-benefit assessment of these processes.
Similar provisions can be found in climate documents from other Caribbean countries, such as Belize and Guyana. Belize’s Third National Communication to UNFCCC mentions the vulnerability of coastal areas and mentions evaluating “the feasibility of relocating vulnerable communities”. In Guyana, the Second National Communication highlights that “vast climate change threats will very likely create hardships for the economy and livelihoods of the people of Guyana” requiring “policies for relocation of inhabitants, infrastructure and services that are placed in highly vulnerable areas”.
Planned relocation is carried out “under the authority of the State, takes place within national borders, and is undertaken to protect people from risks and impacts related to disasters and environmental change, including the effects of climate change”. Additionally, the Cancun Adaptation Framework agreed under the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) identifies planned relocation as one of the human mobility forms requiring “understanding, coordination, and cooperation”, along with climate change induced displacement and migration.
Planned relocation is also mentioned in the recently approved Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration under objective 5 on enhancing the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration for “migrants compelled to leave their countries of origin due to slow-onset natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation” where in place adaptation or return is not possible. Planned relocation also appears in the 2015 Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction with a clear humanitarian focus.
There may be different reasons that can justify the relocation of communities, including the need to move people away from areas increasingly vulnerable to sudden-onset disasters and areas that may become inhabitable due to sea-level rise. There is consensus that planned relocation should be a last resort solution, given its complexity and cost, when other options for in situ adaptation are not adequate, for instance when sea-level rise renders areas inhabitable.
Experiences from the field: Lessons learned and best practices
While planned relocation is increasingly considered as a potential last resort option for climate change adaptation in Caribbean countries, experiences carried out in these countries are still limited and lessons learned have not been fully explored or shared.
Dominican Republic: relocation of the community of Boca de Cachón
The Dominican Republic is highly exposed to sudden-onset events and is one of the most affected countries worldwide. The community of Boca de Cachón in the province of Independencia, affected by the rising waters of Lake Enriquillo, was relocated in 2014 a few kilometers away to higher grounds. This action enabled the community to reduce vulnerability to flooding while increasing access to services such as health and education. However, relocation of Boca de Cachón has also seen some drawbacks. The new community was relocated further away from the main road, which caused challenges for villagers who used to sell their own produce along the way to the provincial capital. The findings confirmed that income generating activities remain a crucial part of successful planned relocation.
Jamaica: Relocation as a strategy for disaster risk reduction
Jamaica has approached planned relocation as a requirement for its disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. At least three communities in the island have been relocated in the past and the process has faced challenges in “restoring or developing new livelihoods”. Recognizing that a proactive and progressive approach is needed, Jamaica developed a Resettlement Policy Framework aligned with the National Development Plan and based on vulnerability assessments of communities at risk. In the Harbour Heights community, the Jamaican Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management developed a resettlement action plan highlighting the need for abundant evidence and data, as well as community engagement to design successful planned relocation.
What to consider when designing planned relocation processes: the way forward
Planned relocation is increasingly being considered as a policy response in Caribbean countries as a last resort for the protection of people in vulnerable environments. While anecdotical evidence is available on specific cases of planned relocations, consolidation of available information remains limited, hampering the ability to build on successful experiences and learn from previous challenges.
Sharing good practices can help States adapt the successful cases to their national scenarios. Responding to the needs of vulnerable communities, the small island nation of Fiji in the South Pacific has developed a set of Planned Relocation Guidelines to undertake climate change-related relocation, identifying the roles of each agency in different phases of the relocation process. In Latin America, Colombia has developed planned relocations in urban settings of Bogotá and Medellín for disaster risk reduction purposes. Uruguay designed a National Relocation Plan to assist vulnerable populations living in flooded and contaminated areas which won a UNFCCC Momentum for Change Award in 2014. The case of the planned relocation of Manam Islanders, in Papua New Guinea, showcases the need to consider the availability of resources in destination areas, inequality situations and exposure to new hazards.
The IOM, UNHCR and Georgetown University’s Toolbox: Planning Relocations to Protect People from Disasters and Environmental Change identifies a series of important factors to be considered when designing planned relocation processes, including:
- The existence of a well-defined and appropriate legal framework, based on human rights law, to govern the planned relocation process;
- The extent to which the needs of affected populations and the impact of planned relocations on them are taken into account and the manner in which affected populations are consulted in the process;
- The complexity of land tenure issues in terms of vacated areas, land acquisition, relocation sites, etc.;
- The importance of adequate monitoring, evaluation and accountability mechanisms at all stages of the process.
As climate-induced environmental change continues affecting Caribbean countries, mitigation and in situ adaptation may not be sufficient in vulnerable areas, and planned relocation appears as a viable last resort option. Knowledge and expertise-sharing remain crucial in this endeavor. In this line, IOM is organizing with the support of GIZ, a two-day Migration, Environment and Climate Change Regional Capacity Building Workshop for Eastern Caribbean States in Castries, Saint Lucia on 14-15 March 2019.
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