Risk-related resettlement and relocation in urban areas

Submitted by Anna Hickman | published 24th Jul 2017 | last updated 4th Nov 2020
risk related resettlement


In cities worldwide, inequalities are high. Low-income populations suffer disproportionately the impacts of climatic and other hazard events, as well as being exposed to everyday health and human security risks. Within these populations, women, the elderly, disabled people and those belonging to particular ethnic or social groups may be especially vulnerable.

As one way of addressing disaster risk, national and local governments, often supported by international funding agencies, engage in resettlement and relocation. This can be preventative, or occur after a disaster. While this reduces people’s exposure to hazards, it can lead to other problems, which can leave people more vulnerable or worse off than they were before. We need to understand better the challenges and associated outcomes of such interventions on people and cities.

The CDKN Essentials* document that this article is based on summarises recommendations on the appropriateness of, and best practices for, urban resettlement and relocation as a response to disaster risk. The first draft of this document was written after a two-day multistakeholder meeting held at FLACSO, Quito, 14–15 October 2016. The document is an output from a project commissioned through the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). For more information and resources please visit the CDKN webpage.

*Download the full report from the right-hand column.

Key messages

  • Resettlement and relocation can reduce people’s exposure to hazards, but in most cases, it leaves people worse off overall in social and economic terms than they were before.
  • Planning needs to prevent the location of new settlements in hazard-prone areas, to avoid future need for resettlement.
  • Resettlement should always be considered a last resort after all options for on-site mitigation or upgrading have been exhausted.
    • Decision-making authorities may, and often do, understand risks differently from the communities living in environments that they know and understand, and alternative actions to resettlement may be possible.
  • Policies and procedures must ensure people’s rights are protected; legal frameworks may need to be strengthened; and international covenants on resettlement must be honoured.


  • Avoid any need for future resettlement. Land-use planning, leading to safer locations for the population, is of paramount importance to eliminate or reduce the need for resettlement and relocation in the future.
  • Protect against forced evictions. Hazard exposure and welfare protection is often used as a pretext to move people out and destroy their property, such as policies applied to some ‘untenable’ slums in India and ‘unmitigable’ risks in several Latin American countries.
  • Understand all options for risk reduction. Communities, government and other stakeholders need to be fully informed about the issues – including the values of different people, current and future hazards, and potential uses for the land to be vacated. Relocation and resettlement should be considered a last resort.
  • Enable consensus-building processes with all stakeholders. For both preventive and post-disaster resettlement and relocation, decisions must be built in consultation with – and consensus between – those living in exposed areas or those affected by the disaster.
  • Honour international covenants on resettlement. If a multi-stakeholder consultation identifies resettlement or relocation as being the most appropriate solution for all or part of the community, then protection of rights, maintenance and diversification of livelihood opportunities, sustainable development, and adherence to principles of international covenants on resettlement must prevail.
  • Share good practices. Sharing across local and state governments, between national governments and with civil society through exchanges, workshops and technical assistance will improve the practices and outcomes of risk-induced resettlement

Further resources