Seeing like a state: land law and human mobility after natural disasters

Daniel Fitzpatrick, Caroline Compton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This Article applies a critical perspective to under-explored issues of land law, human mobility, and state sovereignty in natural disaster contexts. Most postcolonial states maintain positivist myths of sovereign control over land, notwithstanding the persistent reality of informal settlements. Yet, state-centric constructions of land law and planning increase disaster risk for the billion or more landholders classified as informal or illegal in the Global South. Where international instruments such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 recommend risk reduction through land use planning and prohibitions on high risk settlements, national governments may assert a capacity to control human relationships with land, notwithstanding long-term failures to prevent informal settlements in hazardous areas. As a result, those who lack rights derived from or through sovereign grant--or who live in areas designated as non-residential land--are subject to labels of illegality, and are vulnerable to exclusion from shelter assistance, in purported fulfilment of disaster risk reduction commitments. Our case study considers the re-population of prohibited hazard zones after super-Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-787
Number of pages69
JournalNew York University Journal of International Law and Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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