Could novel approaches to urban tenure help to reduce disaster displacement risk in the Pacific?


Rapid urbanization is transforming relations to tenure security across the region and undermining settlements’ resilience to disasters, but there is potential for this trend to be reversed. Urban areas in the Pacific are relatively small in terms of their population size, but they are growing at some of the fastest rates in the world. This is the result of natural growth and the arrival of people from outer islands drawn by the prospect of new livelihood opportunities, better education and health services and modern urban amenities. A number of government-led studies suggest that household income levels in the Pacific are significantly higher in urban areas than in outer islands, but Pacific islanders still rely heavily on subsistence strategies in informal markets, including the informal rental of urban land.

Recent estimates indicate that up to 50 percent of residents in larger Pacific towns live in informal settlements, many of them established on state-administered land. The figure is likely to be an underestimate, given that people who live in settlements in peri-urban zones outside formal administrative areas are not recorded in census data. This rapid urbanization has exposed ever increasing numbers of people not only to disasters, which have become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change, but also to the risk of displacement. People living in informal settlements are particularly vulnerable, the result of unregulated development, poor quality housing, overcrowded conditions and limited access to services. Clear and secure land rights are essential for social development, economic growth and reducing disputes and conflict, but tenure insecurity is also a daily issue for an increasing number of people trying to establish urban lives in informal settlements in the Pacific. Many face the latent threat of eviction. Insecure tenure discourages people from investing in more robust housing, which in turn impedes long-term planning for household and community resilience. Emerging evidence o