Dissertation Abstracts

Forced Relocation after the Indian Ocean Tsunami 2004: Case Study of Vulnerable Populations in Three Relocation Settlements in Galle, Sri Lanka

Author: Fernando, Nishara , nishara.fernando@gmail.com
Department: Geography
University: Bonn, Germany
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Bohle
Year of completion: 2010
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Forced Relocation , Livelihoods , Social Vulnerability , Displacement
Areas of Research: Migration , Risk and Uncertainty , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development


This study focuses on the impact of forced relocation on the livelihoods of residents who lived in the city of Galle, Southern Province of Sri Lanka, prior to the 2004 tsunami, who were later forcibly relocated into new settlements situated far from Galle city as a result of the “buffer zone regulation” (no construction zone). It further examines various livelihood strategies (i.e., coping and enhancement) employed against stresses and risks (i.e., income, housing, common infrastructure, and fragmented relationship with the host community) emanating from forced relocation. Finally, by adopting a socio-geographical approach in three research locations, it attempts to show how all these stresses and risks have added to an increased social vulnerability, threatening the livelihood security of the relocated sample households.

The empirical study is embedded in two main research areas: displacement and relocation research, and vulnerability and livelihoods research. Two conceptual frameworks of forced relocation (Thayer Scudder’s 'Stress and Settlement Process', and Michael Cernea’s 'Impoverishment Risks and Reconstruction Model for Resettling Displaced People') and another two conceptual frameworks of social vulnerability (Bohle’s conceptual model on Double Structure of Vulnerability and the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework) were used to construct an analytical framework for the empirical study. Data were collected in three stages between September 2006 and March 2008 in three large resettlements located 8–12 kilometres from Galle city. Several methods of data collection were used including detailed household questionnaires, in-depth interview schedules, key-informant interviews, simple observations and participatory rural appraisal methods. Triangulation of methods was used to improve the quality of data as well as to acquire a more holistic picture of the relocation process.

As the study shows, firstly the tsunami and secondly the forced relocation into settlements far from the city were severe shocks to the studied households. As a result of these shocks, they had to begin their life from scratch. None of the interviewed householders wanted to move out of the city, perceiving the negative consequences on their livelihoods, access to schools and other services. Unavailability of unused state-owned land in the city forced government authorities to relocate most of the tsunami-displaced people into settlements far from the city.

Empirical data also showed that increased income-related stress owing to new household expenses (i.e., new transport cost, water bills and electricity bills) and disruption of income-earning activities, mainly because of transportation difficulties into the city and lack of income-earning opportunities in the new area. This situation forced them to employ various livelihood strategies, such as entering more household members into the workforce, starting new home-based income-earning activities and changing the main income-earning activities. Nevertheless, household surveys and in-depth interviews with selected household members proved that economically poor resettled households were unable to cope successfully with income-related stresses. Additionally, other stress and risk factors, such as poor housing quality, lack of common infrastructure and fragmented social relation¬ships with the host community that extended up to physical violence caused some resettlers to move back to the buffer zone illegally or to places close to the city by renting, selling or closing their new houses.

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