Nav: Home

A society divided by reconstruction

January 12, 2018

On 26 December 2004, a massive tsunami devastated Indonesia's coastal city of Banda Aceh, levelling nearly half of the city and killing an estimated 160,000 people across the province. Countless others lost their families, homes and everything they owned.

In the years that followed, aid providers rebuilt homes on the same plots that had been completely destroyed by the tsunami, in order to avoid displacing the residents. In doing so, they were acting in accordance with a humanitarian principle that comes into play after natural disasters, namely to help survivors to return to their previous places of residence whenever possible.

Yet in Banda Aceh, many tsunami survivors preferred to move inland instead, leading to a price premium for properties farther from the coast and socio-economic segregation. Reconstruction in the coastal zone has unintentionally exacerbated this segregation: now many lower-income newcomers rent rebuilt houses that higher-income tsunami survivors do not wish to occupy. The unfortunate result is that lower-income residents are now disproportionately exposed to coastal hazards. An international research team has now published these findings in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The principle of "build back better"

"The reconstruction of Banda Aceh had a goal to 'build back better'," says Jamie McCaughey, first author of the study and a doctoral student with ETH Professor Anthony Patt. This principle was used not only with reference to the rebuilding of houses and infrastructure, but also to people's well-being. "While there were many successes, the reconstruction efforts did not always pan out as intended," concluded McCaughey and the team of researchers from the Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh.

In 2014-2015, a decade after the disaster, the researchers studied the long-term outcomes of rebuilding efforts in the city and how residents there were affected. This involved analysing the socioeconomic characteristics of both rebuilt and unaffected residential areas and interviewing hundreds of people: tsunami survivors, newcomers, community leaders, and agency and government officials.

The unpopular coast

The researchers found that nearly all of the homes rebuilt in the tsunami-affected area were inhabited ten years later. Yet only half of the inhabitants were tsunami survivors. Over 40 percent of the people living in the new houses were newcomers: mostly lower-income renters from other regions who had not witnessed the tsunami.

According to the researchers, many tsunami survivors either never returned to live in the aid houses provided on their plots, or returned and soon left. People who could afford it settled in the more inland parts of the city, while renting out their aid house to others. "And some tsunami survivors who returned and ended up staying would like to move farther from the coast but cannot afford to do so," says McCaughey.

This is because the rising demand for properties in tsunami-safe locations further inland had triggered a price explosion. Real estate and land prices increased sharply, making homes in tsunami-safe locations unaffordable to poorer residents wanting to move there. At the same time, the rental prices dropped for the newly built homes near the coast, drawing in poorer residents.

Poor and risky here - rich and safe there

Ultimately, this has led to a division in the urban population - with poor residents who can no longer afford to live in tsunami-safe locations on one side, and affluent residents on the other. "Before the tsunami, people did not know about tsunami risk, so there was no socioeconomic segregation of tsunami-prone areas. But now wealthier households tend to live further inland, while poorer households tend to live near the coast," says the ETH doctoral student.

According to McCaughey, one way to avoid this undesirable segregation would be to let people choose where they receive housing aid after the disaster, regardless of their purchasing power. "Enabling people to choose where they rebuild would help those who truly wish to return to the coast to do so; at the same time, this may avoid the problems that arise from rebuilding more houses than wanted in hazard-exposed areas," he says. Nine in ten interviewees said that they were not given this choice, however.

But it was also reported that there were many who did willingly move back to the coastal zones. "They were thankful for the aid that allowed them to resume a normal life in their familiar surroundings." Given these diverse preferences, "we find that one size does not fit all."

Who should choose where to rebuild?

When rebuilding in disaster areas, aid organisations and government agencies have to decide whether to relocate people to less hazardous areas or to help them resettle in the same places where they lived and worked before.

In the case of Banda Aceh, the researchers reported that a decision was made for the latter: "After the disaster, there was also a lot of pressure from donors to quickly rebuild the parts of the city that were destroyed." Another factor was that the local authorities did not have funds for land purchases. "This limited the possibilities for relocation from the outset," says McCaughey.

Relocation has its disadvantages, too, however: in places destroyed by the same tsunami in Sri Lanka, the authorities created buffer zones where new construction was prohibited. The former inhabitants of these areas were relocated. The new homes and people are safe from future tsunamis, but residents now have to deal with long journeys and expensive transit costs to reach their places of work.

The case of Banda Aceh, however, is not necessarily representative of all of the disaster areas rebuilt after the tsunami. "Other cases must be considered individually," says the environmental social scientist.

"Our findings call into question the humanitarian consensus that it is generally best to rebuild on the sites where people lived before the disaster. Instead, it may be better to enable each household to choose where they resettle, as the Indonesian government had initially proposed for the reconstruction of Aceh. But to implement this, aid providers would need to overcome many difficult challenges." This is an important policy area to examine now: "In an era of growing coastal populations and rising sea levels, decisions made after one disaster strongly influence our vulnerability to the next."

ETH Zurich

Related Tsunami Articles:

Japanese slow earthquakes could shed light on tsunami generation
Understanding slow-slip earthquakes in subduction zone areas may help researchers understand large earthquakes and the creation of tsunamis, according to an international team of researchers that used data from instruments placed on the seafloor and in boreholes east of the Japanese coast.
New evidence reveals source of 1586 Sanriku, Japan tsunami
A team of researchers, led by Dr. Rhett Butler, geophysicist at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa (UHM), re-examined historical evidence around the Pacific and discovered the origin of the tsunami that hit Sanriku, Japan in 1586 -- a mega-earthquake from the Aleutian Islands that broadly impacted the north Pacific.
Study models Tsunami Risk for Florida and Cuba
While the Caribbean is not thought to be at risk for tsunamis, a new study by researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science indicates that large submarine landslides on the slopes of the Great Bahama Bank have generated tsunamis in the past and could potentially again in the future.
'Space tsunami' causes the third Van Allen Belt
Earth's magnetosphere, the region of space dominated by Earth's magnetic field, protects our planet from the harsh battering of the solar wind.
Ancient tsunami evidence on Mars reveals life potential
The geologic shape of what were once shorelines through Mars' northern plains convinces scientists that two large meteorites -- hitting the planet millions of years apart -- triggered a pair of mega-tsunamis.
Preparations for a US west coast tsunami look to the past and future
Plans for managing tsunami risk on the West Coast are evolving, said scientists speaking at the Seismological Society of America's 2016 Annual Meeting, held April 20-22 in Reno, Nevada.
EARTH: Revealing potential tsunami inundation on California coast
Given new information about the capability of faults to produce stronger earthquakes than previously thought, researchers at the University of California Riverside wondered if the current tsunami hazard maps for California adequately predict inundation zones.
AGU: Better, faster tsunami warnings possible with GPS
Better, faster tsunami warnings are possible with GPS.
What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?
A team of European researchers have developed a model to simulate the impact of tsunamis generated by earthquakes and applied it to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Study outlines impact of tsunami on the Columbia River
Engineers at Oregon State University have completed one of the most precise evaluations yet done about the impact of a major tsunami event on the Columbia River, what forces are most important in controlling water flow and what areas might be inundated.

Related Tsunami Reading:

Tsunamis (True Books: Earth Science (Paperback))
by Chana Stiefel (Author)

- Clean new design for easy readability and comprehension
- Updated text presented in a lively, continuous narrative
- New center-spread sidebar feature presenting material in a fun, creative way
- Excellent age-appropriate introduction to curriculum-relevant subjects
- Important Words glossary clarifies subject-specific vocabulary
- Resources section encourages independent study
- Index makes navigating subject matter easy View Details

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone
by Richard Lloyd Parry (Author)

Named one of the best books of 2017 by The Guardian, NPR, GQ, The Economist, Bookforum, Amazon, and Lit Hub

The definitive account of what happened, why, and above all how it felt, when catastrophe hit Japan―by the Japan correspondent of The Times (London) and author of People Who Eat Darkness

On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of northeast Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than eighteen thousand people had been crushed, burned to death,... View Details

Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #28: High Tide in Hawaii
by Mary Pope Osborne (Author), Natalie Pope Boyce (Author), Sal Murdocca (Illustrator)

The #1 bestselling chapter book series of all time celebrates 25 years with new covers and a new, easy-to-use numbering system!

When Jack and Annie got back from their adventure in Magic Tree House #28: High Tide in Hawaii, they had lots of questions. What causes tsunamis? Who studies earthquakes? How do volcanoes form? What should people do if an avalanche hits? Find out the answers to these questions and more as Jack and Annie track the facts. Filled with up-to-date information, photos, illustrations, and fun tidbits from Jack and Annie, the Magic Tree House Fact... View Details

Tsunamis (True Bookextreme Earth)
by Ann O Squire (Author)

"Learn all about the violent waves known as tsunamis, from how they are formed to how they can affect people around the world"-- View Details

Tsunami! (Rise and Shine)
by Kimiko Kajikawa (Author), Ed Young (Illustrator)

Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village, doesn't join the others at the rice ceremony. Instead he watches from his balcony. He feels something is coming; something he can't describe. When he sees the monster wave pulling away from the beach, he knows. Tsunami! But the villagers below can't see the danger. Will Ojiisan risk everything he has to save them? Can he?

Illustrated in stunning collage by Caldecott winner Ed Young, here is the unforgettable story of how one man's simple sacrifice saved hundreds of lives. An extraordinary celebration of both the power of nature and the... View Details

Tsunamis (Earth in Action)
by Mari C Schuh (Author)

Provide young readers with a better understanding of what causes these weather events and how to stay safe should a dangerous situation arise. With simple text and large, outstanding photos, readers will not only be informed, but also gain an appreciation of these awesome phenomenons. View Details

Tsunamis (Earth in Action)
by Jennifer Swanson (Author)

Describes tsunamis, how they occur, and the damage they cause. View Details

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 (I Survived #8)
by Lauren Tarshis (Author)

Visiting his dad's hometown in Japan four months after his father's death would be hard enough for Ben. But one morning the pain turns to fear: first, a massive earthquake rocks the quiet coastal village, nearly toppling his uncle's house. Then the ocean waters rise and Ben and his family are swept away-and pulled apart-by a terrible tsunami. Now Ben is alone, stranded in a strange country a million miles from home. Can he fight hard enough to survive one of the most epic disasters of all time? View Details

Tsunami: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller
by Endeavour Venture

They’d thought that violence would protect them during the brief period before other people obligingly died off, like some disaster novel; then they’d inherit the earth. Allison knew better, had known it since Bert had shot the driver of the Trans Am: the violence would never stop.

See the two sides of humanity that arise when disaster occurs: humanitarian and power-grabber.

Solar flares have been erupting with unusual violence and frequency on the surface of the sun. With the ozone reduced by at least fifty per cent, ultraviolet radiation was penetrating the... View Details

Tsunamis (Devastating Disasters)
by Kirsten Larson (Author)

Introduces tsunamis, discussing what causes them and how to stay safe during one. View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

The Person You Become
Over the course of our lives, we shed parts of our old selves, embrace new ones, and redefine who we are. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the experiences that shape the person we become. Guests include aerobatics pilot and public speaker Janine Shepherd, writers Roxane Gay and Taiye Selasi, activist Jackson Bird, and fashion executive Kaustav Dey.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#479 Garden of Marvels (Rebroadcast)
This week we're learning about botany and the colorful science of gardening. Author Ruth Kassinger joins us to discuss her book "A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work." And we'll speak to NASA researcher Gioia Massa about her work to solve the technical challenges of gardening in space.