Translocal effects and community response to compounding disasters: urban, peri-urban, and rural change in Vanuatu

Authors: Luke Drake*, California State University, Northridge
Topics: Development, Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: translocalism, disasters, resilience, community
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper draws on fieldwork to examine community-based responses and environmental change during a series of disasters in the Melanesian island country of Vanuatu from 2017 to 2020. Island nations are often seen as indicators of emerging vulnerabilities. Ambae Island’s indigenous population experienced multiple disasters recently, bookended by volcanic eruptions and a drought. However, due to temporary displacements and permanent migrations to other islands in the country, the geographical effects were complex. Smallholder farms on Ambae Island were destroyed by livestock during two evacuations; afterwards, replanting was delayed several months during a drought. During this time, local fisheries became overburdened, leading to a customary fishing ban. During the evacuations, urban and peri-urban areas of nearby Santo Island changed, as lack of state support forced displaced communities into overcrowded urban and peri-urban places. Choices such as whether to allow urban gardens or provide space for more tents had to be made. Those in peri-urban areas lacked customary land rights, faced precarious tenure agreements, and were forced into deforesting peri-urban forests. When some community members returned to Ambae, others became more embedded in Santo; some faced unsuitable soils for planting traditional crops while others moved deeper into rural areas in search of good land. Extensions of the community in the capital city, on a third island, self-organized relief efforts like fundraising for land purchases and by sending food and water. Translocalism and political ecology explain how these places were impacted, and the intersections between state, community, and environmental change.

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