Uprooted by tsunami: A social vulnerability framework on long-term reconstruction after the Great East Japan earthquake

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As climate change accelerates and the frequency and intensity of natural hazards increase, the world is threatened by slow and sudden environmental changes. Under these circumstances, people are displaced and forced to move, often to places unwanted. This study attempts to understand how the mechanism of social vulnerability shaped the movement of people by exploring what uproots them, in this case, using the municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture, a site affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The process of reconstruction following the disaster consists of mega buffer-zoning and moving communities to higher ground, called Shudan-Iten or Takadai Iten projects involving out-of-town temporary housing. The social vulnerability framework was used to analyse how post-disaster responses of the municipalities and long-term reconstruction plans for build-back-better affected the movement of people. Research findings show that its impact on residents was profound because of the magnitude of the disaster. Recovery plans emphasised risk reduction and time-consuming projects that led to environmental migration, communities’ displacement, and the dismantling of social ties. Thus, the social vulnerability at the stages of evacuation, temporary housing, policy and planning, group relocation, and rural lifestyle and beliefs are all interconnected in shaping the outcome of the disaster. The study uses exploratory methods and multiple data sources for analysis, comprising interviews with municipality officials and residents, participant observation and direct observation. Secondary archival records were also used in the analysis, including briefing sessions, public census, results of questionnaires, official recovery policy documents, newspaper articles and official records of public meetings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102725
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • Buffer-zone
  • Displacement
  • Environmental migration
  • Reconstruction
  • Social vulnerability


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