Relocation as an adaptation strategy to environmental stress: Lessons from the Mekong River Delta

Submitted by Julian Tangermann 27th January 2016 11:00
policybrief6 0 - climate adaptation.

Policy Brief, Volume 1, Issue 6 - Relocation as an adaptation strategy to environmental stress

Introduction

Is relocation an adequate means of adaptation to environmental change? And if so, how should the relocation process be designed to benefit the affected population?

This policy brief* examines relocation (sometimes also described as “resettlement”) as a method for adapting to environmental stress in specific areas where other strategies, such as land and water management, are not feasible. The authors analyze the success factors of relocation programmes by drawing on studies on relocation projects in the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, as well as research carried out as part of the European Union-funded Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy (MECLEP) project. The Mekong River Delta in the south of Viet Nam is an exemplary case where relocation has already been implemented for quite some time, enabling an understanding of the rationale behind relocation, as well as its effects. 

The brief* shows that to make relocation a success, specific factors have to be taken into account, such as the distance of relocation, as well as the preservation of livelihood in the resettlement areas. 

*Download via the links provided under Further Resources.  The contents of the brief and its key findings are provided below - please download the brief for much more detail.

In the brief:

This brief provides a short background on environmental change and migration, a detailed overview of environmental change and migration in the Mekong River Delta and its associated relocation projects, a discussion of the formation of broader migration corridors, and presents key factors for successful resettlement (also provided below - abridged).

Key Findings

This policy brief highlights a number of key factors for successful resettlement:

  • Income preservation, or generally the preservation of livelihood, is probably the most important condition for resettlement. Especially when residents are strongly dependent on their lands for their income ‒ for instance, in the case of farming and fisheries (such as shrimp farms) ‒ the risk of losing income can limit their willingness to relocate. In the cases examined in Viet Nam, income preservation was particularly important due to the loan system associated with the relocation projects; a decrease of income would in fact lead to a growing dependency on loans.
  • If relocation occurs over short distances, the population involved may be able to maintain its economic activities. They can continue working on their agricultural or fishery lands while living in more stable places. They can also preserve their social networks, which act as a source of information and safety net against financial shocks. The downside of this type of relocation may be that it does not lead to a diversification of activities, which means that the vulnerability of households remains. Moreover, in the face of an expected further increase of environmental stress in the near future, the stability of new settlements cannot always be fully guaranteed either. Hence, one can question to what extent such short-distance relocation is indeed an effective “adaptation” to environmental stress.
  • When relocation involves larger distances, it is important that it is embedded into broader programmes of economic and institutional development of residential zones. This involves schooling and training that allow migrants to develop new skills and adapt to the new situation, such as job training programmes. It may also involve developing a more diverse range of economic activities, such as construction of new factories, development of handcrafts, and in some cases, the development of tourism.
  • Relocation to specific areas should always be seen in a wider perspective that includes broader and more spontaneous patterns of migration in areas affected by environmental stress. It has been argued that relocation often proves to be a starting point of more extensive migratory careers in which individuals or households engage in spontaneous migration over longer distances. For the case of the Mekong River Delta, this is where environmental stress and relocation projects link up directly with the formation of a migration corridor to Ho Chi Minh City in particular. This shows that a better understanding of migration as an adaptation strategy to environmental stress will also lead to a better understanding of the formation of migration corridors to Ho Chi Minh City.

Further resources