After Typhoon, City Wonders: Rebuild Or Relocate?

By Yimei Li


“Why you don’t move?” I asked my uncle Mr. Li when I was thirteen. My uncle lives in Lishui City, Zhejiang province, China, where typhoon happens every year, strikes the same place. This year, typhoon “catfish”, landed in south of China and buried 30 houses on September 28, 2016, including his house.

Figure 1 : Typhoon “Catfish” in Lishui City, Sep 28, 2016. Source: Lishui government website.

After disasters, there are usually two choices for the community. Residents can either rebuild their houses or relocate to another place.



Figure 2: People are rebuilding there houses after typhoon. Source: Herman R. Lumanog/NurPhoto/ZUMA PRESS/Keystone Press.

In Lishui City, every year, the local government implements a protect and rebuild program for facilitating the houses in the town.

On the one hand, Lishui city should be rebuilt and restored as one of the most historically important cities in Zhejiang. It is also a valuable seaport that has a significant effect on the regional economy. Another reason is what my uncle told me, “This is where we’ve always lived, these are our homes, we will not bend to nature, where else will we go?”

On the other hand, nobody knows what will happen after returning to typhoon damaged town and whether more people will die next year. Insurance companies, as an important part for post-disaster reconstruction, are unable to assess and offer financial support. Taxpayers are also unwilling to pay for the town too many times. Incomprehension and anger from them may lead to social instability.


Figure 3: Willingness to relocate. Source: Mikael Damkier/Shutterstock

People can design and build their new house with the government support from human, financial, technical or organizational aspects. It may initially cost a lot, but it is a more sustainable way comparing with recovering in some situation. If Lishuiers relocated to another place in 1996, they would not spend money on rebuilding houses for ten times, which can even buy a new house with the government subsidies. For taxpayers, they can ending the cycle of recovering  and save money in the long run.

Nevertheless, relocating means move to a new site and establish home as well as business there according to Merriam Webster. Establishing a new business, working in a new place, fitting in for a new environment are not easy for human being, especially oil people. Sometime the relocation place can be too remote and infrastructure cannot be moved totally. People also have to consider factors like surrounding region, utilities, transportation, environment, weather and even crime rates.

Rebuild or Relocate?

There are pros and cons of rebuilding after the event versus relocating the population. People need a measurable way rather than qualitative way to determine the solution.

“Fifty percentage” rule can be a good way for determination. If the repairs exceed fifty percent of replacement, people should move to another place for living. The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 44, §206.226(f)(1) states: “A facility is considered repairable when disaster damages do not exceed 50 percent of the cost of replacing a facility to its pre-disaster condition and it is feasible to repair the facility so that it can perform the function for which it was being used immediately prior to the disaster.”  In 2005, China established the Emergency Management Office for emergency management system.  Until 2007, there were 35 laws and 37 regulations published, including abundant aspects from economical, environmental, safety, health to security. Thus, both victims and taxpayers can be persuaded easily when rules and numbers come out.



Resilience: Addressing Vulnerability

The definition of resilience in this blog the capacity for a community to maintain function when facing natural disaster like Typhoon. To address vulnerability, I think the local government needs to 1) design sustainable transportation systems, 2) improve science and technology for forecasting the disasters, 3) improve construction techniques and build stronger infrastructures, 4) develop emergency system and respond at the first time, 5) make sure that the policies are implemented, 6) invest the research centers and institutions to deepen the knowledge of natural hazards, 7) educate the residents about surviving disasters.






Yimei Li (@Yimei Li) is a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania working toward Multi-Master’s Degree in International Environmental Management with an emphasis in Energy Environment Economics and Policy. Previously, she was a research assistant at Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, Beijing for four years. She received her undergraduate degree of economics from Beijing Institute of Technology. 


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