Why City-Dwellers Don't Evacuate In Emergencies

After major urban disasters, there are always stories about the stubborn people who refused to evacuate. They've survived incredible danger, or worse, they haven't survived at all. But this isn't because they're foolhardy. There are good reasons that people stay in their homes, to protect their property at all costs.

Photo by Aaron Favila/AP

Aurora Almendral, a reporter based in the Philippines, explains in a fascinating article for Next City that there are a lot of rational motivations behind the choice not to evacuate — especially in a place like Manila's slums. People fear having their homes looted, and they also want to avoid evacuation centers which can be more dangerous and toxic than their own semi-demolished homes. She's talking exclusively about the Manila slums, but a lot of her observations could be applied to other impoverished city neighborhoods elsewhere in the world.

She notes that people's biggest fear is always displacement and homelessness:

A more complicated motivation for not evacuating is that some slum-dwellers are afraid that, while they're gone, whoever owns the land they're squatting on will seize the moment to make a land grab. According to Patricia Herrera, a community organizer for a Manila slum, many of them think, "This is going to be [the landowner's] way to get us out of here."

Herrera recalls a story where one community in northern Manila evacuated in the run-up to Typhoon Ondoy, which caused massive flooding throughout the city and left about 700 people dead. When they returned, the owner of the land they were squatting on had put up barricades to keep them from coming back in. In the altercation with one of the leaders, a pregnant woman was shot and killed, and the squatters never regained access to the land.

But it's the government that most squatters worry about the most. Officials in Manila often deal with slum areas by demolishing homes and relocating squatters to faraway parcels of land where there's no work and few services. Faced with the lack of opportunities, relocated slum-dwellers simply move back to Manila, to another slum. "If a slum gets destroyed by a flood, that's pretty much an automatic relocation as far as the government is concerned," says Herrera, so many slum-dwellers feel compelled to remain in place and protect their homes.

It's a reminder that for some people, evacuation may not seem like the safest or sanest option.

Read the full article on Next City