In the field of disaster risk management a large inventory of adaptive responses to climate-induced and socio-economically-driven hazards has been developed. Although this inventory comprises a wide array of structural and non-structural measures, one of the most effective adaptive responses is (for many reasons) rarely considered: planned relocations of at-risk residents. Both, the scientific literature and practical experiences in disaster risk management, show that planned relocations are usually regarded as the ultima ratio, only taken into account if other adaptation strategies are ineffective or unavailable (McMichael et al. 2012). In Austria, however, one relocation project has already been administered, after the severe flood event in the Machland region in 2002 and as early as the 1970s, and another large-scale relocation project is currently underway in the Eferding Basin after the severe flood in 2013.
Given that planned relocations are increasingly considered as a response to climate-induced hazards in Austria and internationally, RELOCATE2016‑2018 aims to shed light on the social, spatial and economic implications of moving households away from risk areas. To our knowledge, there is not a single study in Austria that systematically examined the factors that drive households’ relocation decisions or assessed socio-economic and spatial consequences. The ongoing relocation project in the Eferding Basin is a rare and unique chance for Austria’s scientific and policy community to gain practical insights into the „social experiment“ of relocating private households. RELOCATE2016‑2018 aims to contribute to a yet uncharted territory by assessing how transformative processes of planned relocations evolve over time in the cases of the Machland region and the Eferding Basin.
Background and Research Questions
The relocation of flood-prone residents is a passive adaptation instrument aiming at permanently reducing vulnerability (Habersack et al. 2009). Despite its obvious effectiveness however, relocation is a highly contested measure – legally, social and economically. Residents who are affected by relocations are confronted with profound live-changing challenges: overcoming emotional attachment to the place left behind and adapting to a new residency, as well as coping with financial burden and re-building a neighbourly social network. Since policymakers expect primarily negative social and economic impacts, many hesitate over proposing relocation measures. A high probability of low acceptance, public protest and media attention contributes to these reservations.
RELOCATE2016-2018 aims to understand how planned relocations transform risks, community structures and stakeholder relations over time. The project tracks actors in this region in situ over a timespan of several years, to examine how the social, spatial and economic impacts of relocations evolve and how they are constantly re-adjusted by the stakeholders involved. RELOCATE2016-2018 complements common approaches in risk assessment by adopting a perspective on the less tangible, long-term effects of voluntary planned relocation. In this endeavour the following key research questions address multiple angles:
- illustrating how economic, emotional, risk and social dimensions underpin household decisions to accept or decline a home buyout offer
- exploring the coping process and related outcome trajectories of both households who leave and households who stay
- assessing dynamic processes in the design, negotiation and implementation of planned relocation in Austrian flood risk management over the last five decades. Using the multiple streams approach, occurrences of policy windows in the problem, political, policy and population streams are mapped to policy changes.
- evaluating how financial recovery schemes are actually linked to ongoing and past relocation processes
RELOCATE2016-2018 is the second building block towards a long-term longitudinal study of the Machland and Eferding regions. The project builds on 2015 baseline data already obtained in the Eferding basin as part of the ongoing pre-project RELOCATE (funded in StartClim 2015). The project consortium is strongly committed to continue this timeline beyond 2018 in future projects. Since numerous socio-economic and land-use impacts are to be expected to emerge in the long run, collecting continuous data in yearly intervals appears to be crucial to make transformative processes in relocation activities visible.
In terms of scientific advancement RELOCATE2016-2018 generates valuable insights into both the factors that support or impede relocation measures, and the socio-economic and spatial consequences of moving residents in order to reduce potential damages to humans and property.
Besides the scientific community, practitioners are also expected to benefit from the project results. RELOCATE2016-2018 produces new insights for the science-policy interface with respect to planned relocations in the context of climate change adaptation. The findings are condensed into a practitioner’s guidebook for policymakers in other regions in Austria, who consider implementing planned relocations in their own jurisdictions. This guidebook provides compact, hands-on advice how to avoid institutional deadlock and communicative pitfalls, and how to prepare early for cushioning detrimental social, economic and land-use impacts.