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.
Momentum is building behind a land rights revolution. Last year, just prior to the World Bank’s Annual Land and Poverty Conference, I wrote about the many factors pushing land to the top of the global agenda. To maintain this momentum we must pay greater attention to gender and women’s land rights.
Many of today’s increasingly complex development challenges, from rapid urban expansion to climate change, disaster resilience, and social inclusion, are intimately tied to land and the way it is used. Addressing these challenges while also ensuring individuals and communities are able to make full use of their land depends on consistent, reliable, and accessible identification of land rights.
On March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Habitat for Humanity International launched its first global advocacy campaign, “Solid Ground,” which envisions a world where everyone has access to land for shelter. Promoting gender equality and addressing inequitable or unenforced laws, policies, and customary practices affecting women’s rights to security of tenure and inheritance, has been a primary focus of the campaign.
Now mid-way through the campaign, Solid Ground has grown to include 37 national Habitat for Humanity organizations, 17 partner organizations, an active microsite solidgroundcampaign.org (and in Spanish, SueloUrbano.org), and has provided direct financial assistance to country programs working on gender and land issues. In its first year, over 1.3 million people are projected to have improved access to land for shelter through the Solid Ground campaign with a goal of reaching 10 million people, especially women.
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.
It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient. It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.
The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:
Finally, they are less likely to be the recipients of government risk mitigation or recovery efforts. Government recovery efforts – no matter how well intentioned – rarely reach those most in need. After the floods and landslides in Nepal in 2011, for example, only 6% of the poorest received government support – compared to almost 90% of the well off.
The increasing frequency of natural disasters with tragic human consequences should also serve as reminders that resources spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR) are much more effective at saving lives and property loss. Yes, despite substantial evidence that reducing disaster risk is more cost-effective than responding to disasters, expenditures for disaster response and reconstruction exceed spending on disaster risk reduction and preparedness at a rate of about 20 to 1.
To overcome that spending gap will require innovative thinking on a time-tested idea. Governments, the World Bank, and other donors are doing the right thing when trying to devote more resources to disaster risk reduction – and to make land and property rights reforms part of a multi-faceted DRR strategy. In doing so, they would do even better by recognizing that those rights exist in three dimensions, encompassing not just the ground beneath our feet but to the space above (and below) it.
When I used to work in Rwanda, I lived on a small street in Kigali. Every time I invited friends over, I would tell them to “walk past the Embassy, look out for the Church, and then continue to the house with the black gate.” The day a street sign was erected on my street was a game changer.
So how do more than two million citizens of Accra navigate the busy city without the help of street names? While some street names are commonly known, most streets do not have any official name, street sign or house number. Instead, people usually refer to palm trees, speed bumps, street vendors, etc.
But, what happens when the palm tree is cut or when the street vendor changes the location?
The absence of street names poses not only challenges for orientation, but also for property tax collection, postal services, emergency services, and the private sector. Especially, new economy companies, such as Amazon or Uber, depend on street addressing systems and are eager to cater to market demands of a growing middle class.
To address these challenges, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), financed by the World Bank’s second Land Administration Project , is implementing a street addressing and property numbering system in Accra. Other Metropolitan areas received funding from other World Bank-funded projects for similar purposes.
Video: Land ownership for women prevents fears of uncertainty
Around the world, rural women are a major provider of food and food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations argues that improving women’s access to productive resources (such as land) could increase agricultural output by as much as 2.5% to 4%. At the same time, women would produce 20-30% more food, and their families would enjoy better health, nutrition, and education.
[[avp asset="/content/dam/videos/ecrgp/2018/jun-18/securing_land_rights_for_all_is_key_to_building_disaster-resilient_communities_hd.flv"]]/content/dam/videos/ecrgp/2018/jun-18/securing_land_rights_for_all_is_key_to_building_disaster-resilient_communities_hd.flv[[/avp]] October 13 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.
From East Asia, South Asia, and Africa to Latin America, disaster events such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are on the rise, destroying homes and claiming lives.
Sounds simple, maybe even jargony, but no – they are concrete, with real impacts. All of a sudden, we had an internationally negotiated soft law or a set of guidelines on (land) tenure navigating successfully through the global web of interests on land, reaching a common ground. The consensus at the CFS was further strengthened by the endorsement of the VGGT by the G20, Rio+ 20, the United Nations General Assembly, and the Francophone Assembly of Parliamentarians.
This journey started with an inclusive consultation process started by the FAO in 2009, and finalized through intergovernmental negotiations. Importantly, no interest group – governments, CSOs, academia, private sector – felt left behind, and the States were engaged in word-by-word review of the guidelines.
This can be seen in the result. The VGGT’s power stems from the consensus on its principles that States were to:
Recognize and respect all legitimate tenure right holders and their rights;
Protect tenure right holders against the arbitrary loss of their tenure rights; and that
Women and girls [were to] have equal tenure rights and access to land.