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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countries to legally register all land – due to the limited number of land surveyors in country and the use of outdated, cumbersome, costly, and overly regulated surveying and registration procedures.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.

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.

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]

How to capture public life in public spaces?

Fen Wei's picture
Photo credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank
Urbanization and economic growth go hand in hand.  Cities are turning into centers of attraction in developing countries and their population is rising constantly. In such cities, we often see in a city a mix of old and new, slow and fast: Street vendors hawking their wares by luxury shopping malls; highways segmentizing parks and walkways; high-rise crowding out traditional neighborhoods, etc. However, we do not often see a well-balanced mix that serves all urban dwellers with a wide array of needs, economically and socially.
 
What are the ingredients of a good urban life, or rather, what does it take for a city to make the public happy? The answer to this is multifaceted. Cities need to be accessible, vibrant, and create safe public spaces to meet public needs.
 
As UN-Habitat’s Charter of Public Space states, public spaces are a key element of individual and social well-being, the places of a community’s collective life, particularly in situations of poverty and limited public resources, such as those in the developing countries. The Charter also highlights that participation of citizens and in particular of communities of residents is of crucial importance for the maintenance and management of public spaces. While there might be no objection to this statement, it is also true that it has been easily overlooked, especially in developing countries, for the sake of “economic efficiency.”

Twelve big moments of building sustainable cities and communities

Andy Shuai Liu's picture

[Put together the puzzle pieces to reveal the picture. Scroll down to #9 for hints.]
 

If the world in 2017 were a jigsaw puzzle, what memorable pieces would you choose to make up the big picture?
 
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that pounded coastal United States and the Caribbean; the severe drought that struck Somalia; forest fires that are ravaging through southern California… Hard to miss were the natural disasters that displaced – even killed – individuals and families.
 
There were also the “manmade” disasters – conflicts that erupted or lasted in many parts of the world continued to force men, women, and children out of their homes and homelands.
 
Yet, turning to the bright side, the world has come a long way this year in addressing these challenges to boost inclusive and sustainable growth.


Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, global and local leaders gathered at the One Planet Summit in Paris to firm up their commitment – and ramp up action – to maximize climate finance for a low-carbon, disaster-resilient future.
 
At the World Bank, our teams working on social development, urban development, disaster risk management, and land issues have endeavored with countries and cities worldwide throughout the year to achieve a common goal: building inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities for all.
 
How did they do? From our “Sustainable Communities” newsletter, we have captured 12 moments that mark the major accomplishments and lessons learned in 2017—and inspire our continued work to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity in 2018:
 
#1: Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World


 
Released in February 2017, our report on cities in Africa notes that, to grow economically as they are growing in size, Africa’s cities must open their doors and connect to the world. Improving conditions for people and businesses in African cities is the key to accelerating economic growth, adding jobs, and improving city competitiveness. Two more reports released in 2017 also shined a light on inclusive urban growth in East Asia and the Pacific and in Europe and Central Asia respectively.

Creating “Solid Ground” for gender equality in land access

Jane W. Katz's picture
In Brazil, a woman trained through the School of Women Leaders explains to her neighbors what she has learned. Photo: Maria do Carmo Carvalho / Habitat for Humanity

Despite the fact that women represent about half of the global population, produce the majority of global food supply, and perform 60% to 80% of the agricultural work in developing countries, women own less than 20% of land worldwide.

Written laws often fall short of adequately protecting women’s tenure rights; while in some countries, formal national laws explicitly discriminate against women. In post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction, women face particular hurdles to secure tenure and shelter. Even in areas with strong protections of equality and non-discrimination, displaced women often struggle to assert their property 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.

Through a variety of efforts to build capacity, mobilize allies, influence policymakers, and work together with our partners, we are seeing signs of progress being made to achieve successful outcomes in helping facilitate women’s land ownership and empowering women to understand and achieve their rights. A sampling of some strategies, cases, and upcoming plans are highlighted below. 

Reversing the geospatial digital divide – one step, or leap, at a time

Anna Wellenstein's picture
Earth from space. Photo by NASA.

Global positioning systems (GPS), real time traffic maps, accurate weather forecasts, Uber, self-driving cars… Geospatial data is on full display 24/7 throughout the world these days.  It’s like nothing we have seen before. But none of this would be possible without the underpinning role of the government.

“Geospatial,” or location-based data has existed for hundreds of years – for example, in street and topographical maps. What’s different is how quickly new information is being gathered and the more sophisticated analytics that is being applied to it, thanks to technological advances.

What was once information only found in the domain of government, military, and select private sector, even up to the 1980s and 90s, has come into broad use over the last 20 years. With the increase of mobile technology and communications, handheld smart phones have democratized mapping, moving geospatial technology into the hands of every individual.

This summer, some tens of millions of people in the U.S. traveled to see the total solar eclipse, including a co-author of this blog. Not only was the eclipse amazing – but the drive back from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. showed the integration and impact of geospatial information in our daily lives.
 

Let’s make a deal for resilient cities

Carina Lakovits's picture
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
JIANGXI CHINA-July 1, 2017: In Eastern China, Jiujiang was hit by heavy rain, and many urban areas were flooded. The vehicles were flooded, and the citizens risked their passage on flooded roads.
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
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.

Much of this has to do with the lack of adequate infrastructure that can defend against the impacts of floods, sea level rise, landslides or earthquakes. Most cities need better flood defenses, better constructed houses, and better land use planning. But even when cities know what it takes to become more resilient, most often they do not have access to the necessary funding to realize this vision.

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.

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