Addressing Land Ownership after Natural Disasters

It is widely acknowledged that determining and redistributing land ownership1 promptly and equitably after natural disasters is an important step in the transition from short-term humanitarian relief to the long-term reconstruction of livelihoods and communities. However, there is little consistency between the approaches of different humanitarian relief agencies. Some prefer to leave the issue to national governments, while others get deeply involved mapping previous ownership and demarcating new boundaries.

This report represents the collated findings of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) survey, circulated among humanitarian and development professionals, commentators and academics involved with disaster management and mitigation. The document does not pretend to be statistically watertight but does hope to raise some of the issues and dilemmas that humanitarian relief agencies face on a daily basis in disaster affected areas.

The survey consisted of four sets of questions:

  1. what stage in the ‘natural disaster cycle’ humanitarian and development agency staff felt land ownership was most important: before a disaster strikes, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, or as the country and communities rebuild homes and livelihoods;
  2. how effectively the respondents felt their own organizations understood and dealt with the land issues that arise from natural disasters;
  3. what barriers exist to resolving land issues equitably after natural disaster;
  4. where different responsibilities for dealing with land issues should lie – with government, humanitarian relief agencies, development agencies, the private sector or civil society.
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