Lessons for how to prevent post-disaster resettlement in disaster-prone areas: examining two Indonesian case studies

By Arielle Dalley, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia 


The second priority of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 is to strengthen disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk (UNISDR, 2015). A field study course in Indonesia, a particularly hazard-prone country, provided the opportunity to study how their local governments have attempted to manage disaster risk following a disaster. This research specifically investigates the successes and failures of local governments in Indonesia to relocate human settlements and prevent future settlements in disaster risk-prone areas following the 2007 Solo flooding and the 2010 Merapi eruption. After both disasters, the respective local governments initiated relocation programs for those living in disaster-prone areas where resettlement should be avoided, and in Solo, the disaster-prone land was repurposed, which helped prevent future resettlement. Some of the factors contributing to the success and failure of these actions are outlined. Lessons learned from these successes and failures can help guide future attempts to relocate human settlements and prevent future settlements in disaster-prone areas, both of which are key actions outlined under the second priority of the Sendai Framework (UNISDR, 2015).

Expert opinions about the two cases were collected through meetings with key resource people in Indonesia. Finer details about the cases could not be covered during the meetings due to time constraints, and language barriers may have resulted in misunderstandings, so literature was consulted to supplement the information gathered during the meetings.


Solo, located along the edge of the Bengawan River, experienced major flooding in November 2007 due to intense seasonal rains, prompting a relocation program for the people living along the banks of the river (Figure 1) (Resource Person #2 (RP2); Taylor, 2015). Nearly two-thirds of the population, most of whom did not own land, have been successfully relocated, although negotiations are still underway with the remaining residents who did own land and felt that the proposed compensation to relocate was not adequate (Taylor, 2015).

Figure 1: Map of areas targeted for relocation in Solo after the 2007 flood event (Yayasan Kota Kita, 2016).

The relocation program was relatively successful, in part due to its participatory nature, with government officials engaging with residents and community working groups (Taylor, 2015). Residents were offered cash grants to buy land elsewhere and build new houses, and were encouraged to work with their neighbours to determine where to move together, keeping their social networks intact and fostering a sense of continuity and social stability (Taylor, 2015). The ability to choose where to live also allowed them to find land close to livelihood opportunities. Much of the land along the river is state-owned, so many residents were living there informally, making land ownership itself another important incentive to relocate (RP2, 2016; Taylor, 2015). Many residents were also migrants from other municipalities, and therefore not considered legal residents of Solo, preventing them from accessing social welfare services, formal employment, and education (RP2, 2016; Taylor, 2015). As part of the relocation, they were offered legal citizenship, giving them access to these benefits (RP2, 2016; Taylor, 2015). Through their relocation, residents also gained access to improved sanitation. These environmental, social, and economic benefits have all contributed to the success of the relocation, and in turn, to the successful prevention of resettlement in the disaster-prone areas. Resettlement may have also been prevented, in part, due to the transformation of the vacated land into greenspace with recreational infrastructure and community gardens, which some nearby residents have used to grow plants to make oils which they can sell (Figures 2, 3, & 4) (RP2, 2016). This has made the area an asset to the surrounding communities.

Figure 2 and 3: The Bengawan River, photos taken by author


Mount Merapi is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and more than 50,000 people used to live in ‘danger zone III’ or ‘KRB III’, the area around Merapi most frequently affected by volcanic hazards (Figure 5) (Mei, et al., 2013). After three weeks of severely damaging volcanic activity, beginning in October 2010, the government stated that people were forbidden to live in KRB III: they closed government facilities such as schools, they refused to provide services such as electricity in the area and they began a relocation program for residents of KRB III (Nofrita, 2014; Resource Person #1, 2016).

Figure 4: Map of Mount Merapi and the danger zones (KRB I, II, and III) after the 2010 eruption (Mei, et al., 2013).

Although some residents were satisfied with their relocation, many of the nearly 600 families populating three villages located in KRB III  reoccupied their land after the 2010 eruption (Muryanto, 2012; Nofrita, 2014). They returned to the area for many environmental, social and economic reasons. Many residents preferred the fresh air and cooler climate on the slopes of Merapi (Lavigne, et al., 2008; Nofrita, 2014). Strong community ties and a strong attachment to place also contributed to the decision not to relocate (Lavigne, et al., 2008; Nofrita, 2014). Most residents also owned property in KRB III and relied on their land for cattle farming (Nofrita, 2014). The land offered by the government in compensation for relocating was not adequate for cattle farming, so they would have had to give up their livelihoods, which many residents were not willing to do (Nie, 2012).

Key Takeaways

Clearly, the successful relocation of residents and subsequent use of the disaster-prone land in ways which benefit surrounding communities helps to prevent resettlement in these areas, thereby managing disaster risk. In Solo, many residents’ lives were improved through the relocation program, which made them less likely to return. Turning the vacated land into a community asset which directly benefitted surrounding communities also helped to prevent resettlement. In contrast, some residents of Merapi felt that relocating would not have meaningfully improved their lives or enhanced their welfare and that they were better off living on the slopes of Merapi, despite the risks associated with living there (Nie, 2012; Nofrita, 2014).

The environmental, social and economic factors which affect the success of relocating and preventing resettlement in disaster-prone areas are unique to each community. To successfully implement strategies to keep disaster-prone areas clear of settlement and support the Sendai Framework’s second priority, these contextual factors must not be overlooked by governments, and strategies must be developed in consultation with each community.


 Arielle Dalley is a recent graduate of the Master of Community and Regional Planning program at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in hazard mitigation and disaster risk reduction. In 2015, she graduated with a Bachelor of Knowledge Integration and a minor in Earth Sciences from the University of Waterloo.



Lavigne, F. et al., 2008. People’s behaviour in the face of volcanic hazards: Perspectives from Javanese communities, Indonesia. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Volume 172, pp. 273-287.

Mei, E. T. W. et al., 2013. Lessons learned from the 2010 evacuations at Merapi volcano. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Volume 261, pp. 348-365.

Muryanto, B., 2012. Residents refuse to relocate from slopes of Merapi. [Online]
Available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/12/08/residents-refuse-relocate-slopes-merapi.html

Nie, Y., 2012. Economic Life Slowly Returns to Indonesia’s Mount Merapi. [Online]
Available at: http://www.voanews.com/a/economic-life-slowly-returns-to-indonesias-mount-merapi–137062538/168354.html

Nofrita, S., 2014. The Livelihood Analysis in Merapi Prone Area After 2010 Eruption. Indonesian Journal of Geography, 46(2), pp. 195-207.

Resource Person #1, May 11th, 2016. University faculty member. Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Resource Person #2, May 19th, 2016. Representative from a local NGO. Solo/Surakarta, Indonesia.

Taylor, J., 2015. A tale of two cities: comparing alternative approaches to reducing the vulnerability of riverbank communities in two Indonesian cities. Environment and Urbanization, 27(2), pp. 621-636.

UNISDR (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction). 2015. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030. Sendai, Japan: UNISDR.

Yayasan Kota Kita, 2016. Flood Relief Pamphlet. s.l.:s.n.

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