Land Issues for Climate Resilient Informal Settlements

Research aims to understand the implications of decisions about resettlement on informal settlements in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, both of which have more than 80% customary tenure. In both these countries, there is only limited land valuation and formal land use planning in the major informal settlement areas.

Future climate change is considered to be one of the most pressing challenges for the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) given their already high levels of exposure to natural hazards, limited capacity to respond, and significant geographical challenges. PICs have a long history of experiencing earthquakes and associated tsunamis, as well as climate-related extreme events such as cyclones. Climate change will act to intensify a range of natural challenges into the future.

Sea level rise, in particular, will be critical to the future of low-lying atolls in the Pacific (Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Kiribati being most at risk due to their low elevations), however a heightened sea level will also increase other hazards for nations such as Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji through coastal erosion and land degradation, increased storm surges, and salinization of valuable water supplies.

One in four Pacific Islanders is now an ‘urban’ resident with many of the new rural migrants locating in informal settlements in peri-urban environments. These settlements tend to develop on the least desired land such as hazard-prone areas, mud flats or poor quality land subject to drought. They often have limited infrastructure and access to services, limited security of tenure, low levels of adaptive capacity, and are vulnerable to being evicted from their dwelling or losing their access to land and livelihoods after a disaster. This combination of factors makes informal settlers particularly vulnerable to shocks and stresses.

While resettlement of hazard-prone people is a potential option, great care is needed as there is a risk of increased conflict related to migration and resettlement in the Pacific Islands. This project aimed to understand the implications of land issues for the climate resilience of informal settlements in Fiji and PNG. A related aim was to better understand the implications of decisions about resettlement of informal settlements. Findings from the research are intended to inform people in the land and property sector about existing land issues and the complexity of resettlement in the context of land tenure arrangements, and the issues that need to be addressed in the process of resettlement in order to protect the rights of people in informal settlements, and improve their abilities to adapt to current climate variability and future climate change.

Field work was undertaken in selected informal settlements in Lami in Fiji, and in Wewak in PNG. Interviews and questionnaires were carried out in both case studies and were designed to question existing approaches to climate change adaptation, the respondents’ perception of climate risks, and the security of tenure of people in the informal settlements. It also sought the opinions of households on the advantages and disadvantages of resettlement. The research was supported by a review of the key literature on land tenure security and climate change adaptation in the Pacific Island Countries, with a particular focus on Fiji and PNG.

Source: RICS. Date: 28 May, 2016