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Securing land tenure with smartphones

Linus Pott's picture

Photo by Linus Pott / World Bank

More than 1,000 years.

That’s how long recent estimates suggest it would take in some developing countries to legally register all land – due to the limited number of land surveyors in country and the use of outdated, cumbersome, costly, and overly regulated surveying and registration procedures.

But I am convinced that the target of registering all land can be achieved – faster and cheaper. This is an urgent need in Africa where less than 10% of all land is surveyed and registered, as this impacts securing land tenure rights for both women and men – a move that can have a greater effect on household income, food security, and equity.

The question remains, how can we register land and secure tenure at scale?

Perhaps one of our answers can be found in rural Tanzania where I recently witnessed the use of a mobile surveying and registration application. In several villages, USAID and the government of Tanzania are piloting the use of the Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST), one of several (open-source) applications available on the market. DFID, SIDA, and DANIDA are supporting a similar project.

The process of mobile land surveying and registration goes like this:

When disasters displace people, land records and geospatial data are key to protect property rights and build resilience

Anna Wellenstein's picture
 


Droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other disasters displaced over 24 million people in 2016. When people leave their homes behind, land records offer critical protection of their property rights. This is crucial, as land and homes are usually the main assets that people have. Land and geospatial information is key to ensure that land records are comprehensive and secure.

Land and geospatial information tells the what, who, where, how much, and other key attributes of a property. Without this information, it is almost impossible for cities and communities to develop proper disaster response or preparedness plans.

Comprehensive land and geospatial systems can secure the resilient recovery of economic activities – by providing accessible and instant data on disaster impact, the value of losses, the beneficiaries, as well as the levels of appropriate compensation and required investment to restore activities.

Three things to know about women’s land rights today

Anna Wellenstein's picture
 

Gender equality is central to ongoing global efforts to reduce extreme poverty and improve livelihoods for all. An important part of gender equality is ensuring women’s equal access to – and secure rights to – land and properties. 

Strengthening women’s land tenure security improves their rights and their dignity. Importantly, improving women’s access to and control over economic resources also has a positive effect on a range of development goals, including poverty reduction and economic growth.

What do we know about women’s land rights globally?  

Although gains have been made to increase legal protections for women to use, manage, own and inherit land, in practice, women often aren’t able to realize their rights to the land on which they live, work and depend for survival.

In a video blog marking the International Day of Rural Women, World Bank Director Anna Wellenstein and Senior Land Administration Specialist Victoria Stanley discuss three “headlines” one may encounter on women and land:
  1. Globally, there is an understanding that reducing poverty requires secure land tenure, and that women’s share in that is important.
  2. Researchers and policymakers don’t have enough gender-disaggregated data at the country level to understand the true scope of the challenge of women’s land rights, but efforts are underway to collect more data and gain a better understanding.
  3. There are strong pilots and initiatives of women themselves to gain equal access to land and improve tenure security, but now these efforts need to go to scale.

To drive broader development impact and affect lasting change, the World Bank joins global and regional partners – Landesa, Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), UN-Habitat, Habitat for Humanity, and the Huairou Commission – and local women and communities in preparing an advocacy campaign that aims to close the gap between law and practice on women’s land rights.

Watch the video and read our blog series to learn more about women and land.

Where to go for information on access to information

Jim Anderson's picture
Photo: World Bank

I get stirred up by all types of governance data, so in honor of the International Day for Universal Access to Information, I though I’d highlight a few efforts to measure access to information. Information on access to information, if you will.

A disaster that could have been avoided: Enhancing resilience with land and geospatial data

Alvaro Federico Barra's picture
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
(Photos: Robert Reid and Ivan Bruce / World Bank)

On August 14, 2017, after three days of intense rain, a massive side slope of the Sugar Loaf – the highest mountain in the north of Sierra Leone’s Western Area Peninsula – collapsed and slipped into the Babadorie River Valley.

The mudslide affected about 6,000 people. Up to 1,141 of them were declared dead or missing. The deadly disaster also caused major destruction of infrastructure near the capital city of Freetown.

What caused the slope to collapse? A complex set of factors, such as record-breaking rainfall and nature of the slope, may have contributed to the incident. However, many expert assessments suggest it was mainly "a man-made disaster" due to the rapid urbanization and expansion of Freetown – coupled with poor urban planning.

Like most West African cities, Freetown is plagued with unregulated building structures, residential housing in disaster-prone hilltop areas, and unplanned settlements that intensify deforestation and increase the risk of mudslides. To make things worse, many of the properties affected by the August 2017 mudslide were encroaching on the Western Area National Park, a forest reserve that still holds one of the last reserves of unspoiled forest in Sierra Leone.

Why strengthening land rights strengthens development

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
Aerial view of the landscape around Halimun Salak National Park, West Java, Indonesia.
© Kate Evans/CIFOR

This blog post was originally published on Project Syndicate.

Today, only 30% of the world’s population has legally registered rights to their land and home, with the poor and politically marginalized especially likely to suffer from insecure land tenure. Unless this changes, the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will be impossible to achieve.

For most of the world’s poor and vulnerable people, secure property rights, including land tenure, are a rarely accessible luxury. Unless this changes, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible to achieve.

Land tenure determines who can use land, for how long, and under what conditions. Tenure arrangements may be based both on official laws and policies, and on informal customs. If those arrangements are secure, users of land have an incentive not just to implement best practices for their use of it (paying attention to, say, environmental impacts), but also to invest more.

Using satellite imagery to revolutionize the creation of tax maps

Daniel Ayalew Ali's picture

Municipalities need recurrent property taxes to finance service delivery

The ability for cities to raise revenues in a non-distortionary way for effective urban service delivery and infrastructure is essential to realizing the potential of urbanization. As most benefits from these investments will be capitalized in surging land values, recurrent taxes on land and other real property can be an incentive-compatible financing method. In developing countries, taxes on land and property are still far below those of developed countries, even in relative terms. Instead, cities often rely heavily on land transaction taxes, but these impose frictions on land market operations, push transactions into informality, and create incentives for fraudulent under-declaration of sales values.

Spatially awhere: Bridging the gap between leading and lagging regions

Sameh Wahba's picture


As the world urbanizes rapidly, international experience has shown that economic activities concentrate in a relatively small number of places – it is estimated that only 1.5% of the world’s land is home to about half of global production.

Such economic concentration is a built-in feature of human settlement development and a key driver of growth. However, while some countries have succeeded in spreading economic benefits to most of their citizens, many other countries have not.

Especially outside the economic centers that concentrate production, there are “lagging areas” with persistent disparities in living standards and a lack of access to basic services and economic opportunities.

Today, over two billion people live in such lagging areas. Over one billion people live in underserved slums with many disparities from the rest of the city in terms of access to infrastructure and services, tenure security, and vulnerability to disaster risk. A further one billion people live in underdeveloped areas with few job opportunities and public services.

How can countries address the division between the leading and lagging regions?

As discussed at the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we at the World Bank Group are taking an integrated territorial approach through a “spatially awhere” lens to tackle the land, social, and economic challenges altogether.

[Download: World Bank publications on urban development]

To close the gap in women’s land rights, we need to do a better job of measuring it

M. Mercedes Stickler's picture
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green
A woman holding her land certificate in rural Zambia. © Jeremy Green

There is broad global agreement that secure property rights help eradicate poverty and that securing women’s land rights reduces gender inequality. But our understanding remains strikingly limited when it comes to the extent to which women’s land rights are – or are not – secure and the impact of women’s tenure security (or lack thereof) on women’s empowerment.

This is true even in Africa, where the most studies have been published, due to shortcomings in both the quality and quantity of research on these questions.


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