The implications of land issues for climate resilient informal settlements in Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors


Future climate change is considered to be one of the most pressing challenges for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) given their already high levels of exposure to natural hazards, limited response capacity and significant geographical challenges. While resettlement of hazard-prone people is a potential option, land disputes are frequent in the PICs and the findings in this report confirm the need for careful attention to avoid increasing conflict-related to migration and resettlement.

25% of Pacific Islanders are now ‘urban’ residents, with many of the new rural migrants locating in informal settlements in peri-urban environments. A combination of factors makes informal settlements particularly vulnerable to shocks and stresses, including:  limited infrastructure and access to services, low levels of adaptive capacity, and losing their access to land and livelihoods after a disaster. The paper draws on interviews and questionnaires undertaken in selected informal settlements in Lami (Fiji) and Wewak (Papua New Guinea – PNG). A review of key literature on land tenure security and climate change adaptation in the PICs supported this data collection.

Settlements surveyed in Fiji and Papua New Guinea differed in terms of population density, location and land tenure arrangements. Generally, respondents with higher levels of perceived vulnerability also have greater perceptions of tenure insecurity and threat of eviction. This is consistent with literature that highlights how informal settlements are more likely to occur on land that is less desirable and in some cases more hazard-prone.

Findings challenge assumption that the cultural norms associated with customary tenure in Fiji is the same as in PNG. Land tenure systems and associated rules vary between and even within countries, and also between villages:

  • Most people surveyed in Fiji indicated that their tenure was either ‘very secure’ or ‘secure’, and that they were not vulnerable to eviction and land grabbing, with more than half of those interviewed indicating that their property rights were recognised by others, and that they had access to government-protected land. They were also less likely to consider themselves as vulnerable, although this perception depended on where they were located. In PNG, despite respondents having lived in each settlement for more than 20 years, only respondents in Nuigo considered themselves not vulnerable to eviction and their tenure secure. However, the local perception in Wewak is that informal settlers are temporary residents who are given limited rights as to the activities they undertake on the land.
  • Respondents in all settlements (except Saksak – PNG) stated that resettlement would not be a climate adaptation option unless there was a government guarantee of tenure security at the new site, and government support to maintain existing livelihoods or development news one near the resettlement site.

These, and other findings, are consistent with discussions in international literature that highlight how tenure security is closely linked to resilience, and that resettlement is a complex process involving many cultural, economic and social elements that must be addressed for the resettlement to be sustainable.

The long-term sustainability of resettlement decisions in Fiji or PNG will require effective coordination between government agencies and customary groups, providing people who are to be resettled with confidence that they will be accepted into the community, and offering security to for all affected people are also key factors in any decision to resettle people. Consideration of how to reduce hazard risk and protect livelihoods is also a key factor. Resettlement is best undertaken on a voluntary basis as a partnership between government and the resettled and host communities. The protection of tenure security requires that governments record, recognise and respect the tenure rights of all affected people – at both the resettlement and new site. At present, Fiji has a greater capacity to undertake the land administration required, but a fit for purpose approach can be used in both countries.


RICS. (2016). The implications of land issues for climate resilient informal settlements in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. London: Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.