Eviction is not a disaster

Jennifer Day*, Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh, Susanna Price

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Motivation: Should the process of forcibly evicting people from customary land be classified as a “disaster”? Some international organizations and governments are integrating processes on forced eviction of urban residents into policies that are primarily designed to manage displacements due to climate change and disasters—such as Vanuatu’s 2018 National Policy on Climate Change and Disaster-Induced Displacement. Purpose: This article contextualizes the classification of evictions as “disasters.” We argue that evictions are not disasters and should not be so classified. We make these arguments from an empirical position, based on community response to the declaration of eviction as disaster, and also from the perspective of international law. Approach and Methods: Our data come from the following sources:. Communities: We use a storytelling method to interview around 100 women and men. The policy: We review the language of the Vanuatu policy in the context of international guidance on displacement generally and on forced eviction specifically. Public records: We use court records and newspaper reporting to understand claims of government, land claimants and survivors. Policy-makers: A limited number of unofficial conversations with policy-makers inform this work. Findings: Urban forced evictions should not be treated as “disasters” in policy on forced displacement. Our interviewees identify the equation of eviction and “disaster” as one that removes the agency of the government to protect their human rights. The evidence presented here suggests that the Government of Vanuatu does not have sufficient powers to intervene in some forced evictions from customary land. This raises critical questions about whether the government will be able to fulfil the promises made in the policy and in its obligations under international law relating to displacement. Policy Implications: Classifying forced evictions together with land conflicts, infrastructure and development as potential “crises,” and so “disastrous,” as the Vanuatu policy does, creates a new set of challenges that must now be managed as the policy is operationalized. This includes serious consideration of how countries that take this path will fulfil their obligations to protect against, avoid and minimize displacement, in the context of customary land, and meet other international policy standards, in order to ensure no one is left worse off nor denied the benefit of development opportunity. This is a timely issue for peer countries. Right now, other Pacific countries, like the Solomon Islands, are looking to Vanuatu’s example to develop internal displacement policies of their own.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)103-120
    Number of pages18
    JournalDevelopment Policy Review
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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