According to Le De (2011, p.121), relocating communities after a disaster can have more negative effects for the population than benefits and may actually increase their vulnerability: “Recent examples such as the Indian Ocean tsunami affecting Asian countries in 2004 showed little success in forced or highly encouraged resettlement of population. Only few days after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, the government declared a ‘no construction‘ coastal buffer zone of 100m to 200m”. Le De describes how home owners were denied to rebuild on their land, whereas these rules did not apply to hotels that had suffered less than 40% of structural damage; they were allowed to reconstruct at the same place. Rice (2005, cited in Le De, 2011, p.122) criticizes that “wealthier hoteliers and the tourism industry rapidly expanded and benefited of this policy, but local population that were mainly fishermen, had to remain inland for their safety”. Ingram et al. (2006, cited in Le De, 2011, p.122) conclude that “this reconstruction plan increased inequalities and the impact on the environment, leading to more vulnerability of population displaced rather than decreasing it”. Le De states that the communities later tried to make the government review this policy in order to move back to their previous location.
Past experiences in Samoa demonstrate that a resettlement to pre-event locations is very possible. “The phenomenon of moving inland has been observed when cyclones Ofa and Val hit the country in the early 1990s and most of the families have then returned to the places impacted (PNDA, 2009, cited in Le De, 2011, p.122)”. In 2009, a submarine earthquake that was followed by a tsunami hit Samoa. When Le De interviewed an official from Habitat for Humanity about rebuilding in safer areas, “he answered that Samoa was a multi-risk area and suggested that building in another location did not mean reducing this risk” (Le De, 2009, p.125). Before making rapid choices to relocate communities, government officials should consider the culture and social organization of their population. “Reducing vulnerability is an important aspect of the recovery strategy, but policies should consider contextual and cultural components of the country (Le De, 2011, p.127). Similar to Sri Lanka, the Samoan lifestyle is highly connected to the ocean. More than 80% of the population lives along the coast. Le De (2011, p.122) claims that “Social organization, customary land structure, relation to the village church and social practices, emotional aspects due to traditional customs, and restoration of public facilities along the coast are many factors that could play in favor of a progressive come back at the same location as pre-tsunami”.
According to Le De (2011, p.37), many researchers criticize relocating communities against their will. “However, even if in some cases this option presents positive outcomes, imposed or involuntary relocation is generally unsuccessful (Oliver-Smith, 1982, 1986; Shanmugaratnam, 2005; World Bank, 2005a), and often makes the population affected more vulnerable (Ingram et al., 2006). Commonly, disaster victims insist in staying at the place that has been destroyed, mainly because of the strong human-land relationship described as the maternal roots (Zwingmann, 1973), and material concerns (Oliver-Smith, 1977; Coburn et al., 1984). Partridge (1989: 375) declares that ‘from the perspective of displaced people, forced resettlement is always a disaster’, and some researchers estimate that relocation should be avoided or minimized along the recovery phase (Cernea, 1991: 26)”. Oliver-Smith (1991, cited in Le De, 2011, p.37) further warns that “relocation programs disrupt the functioning of a society that have generally involved centuries of cultural practices and tradition”.
Le De (2011, p.37) lists the main reasons why relocation programs tend to fail: “Poor choice of new location (Ingram et al., 2006) often due to ‘speedy choices’‖(Coburn et al., 1984; Razani, 1984), distance from employment and social services (UNDRO, 1982: 47), lack of cultural or social networks (e.g. neighbours, religion) considerations (Razani, 1984; Kronenburger, 1984), and housing design are few of the many factors commonly highlighted as a failure or rejection of post-disaster relocation programs”. Le De (2011, p.37) also identifies the elements that should be considered when carrying a resettlement program: “political factors including organizational structures and territoriality; economic components such as soil fertility, available resources, and employment or labour; cultural aspects that are the environment-religion relationship, world perception, values, and identity”. According to Le De (2011, p.38), Cernea (1988) points out that “the main objective of a resettlement program should be to ensure that relocated population have ‘opportunities to become established and economically self-sustaining in the shortest possible period’. Thus, resettlement should consider aspects of development by taking into account social and physical infrastructure (e.g. hospitals, schools, roads, and water service), job access, cultural and social values, and knowledge of the local environment (Oliver-Smith, 1991; Cernea, 1997)”.