Intermediate Steps Towards Secure Land Tenure

A functioning land administration system is the foundation of stability and economic growth. Unfortunately, effective land registries and cadastral systems with national coverage exist in just a few countries, leaving, by some estimates, 70% of the world’s population with undocumented and insecure land and resource rights.

Although citizens holding land informally suffer most acutely from a lack of recognized and secure land rights, they are not the only actors affected. The lack of information on land rights, property boundaries, and infrastructure is a constraint to economic development and security for public and private sectors alike. The basic identity conferred by recognizable street addresses is a boon to private sector actors looking to deliver goods and services, while governments benefit by having data that serves as the cornerstone for planning, infrastructure delivery, and revenue collection.

The rate at which most national land agencies are formalizing land rights cannot keep pace with the rate of urbanization in most emerging economies, resulting in growing informality in the housing sector. Local governments face a critical data gap to adequately and equitably deliver basic services to informal settlements, such as clean water, sanitation facilities, and emergency services. Thus, when a fire breaks out in an unplanned community, disaster can occur, such as that in the Mirpur informal settlement of Dhaka, Bangladesh in March of 2018 when some 8000 buildings were lost before firefighters could control the blaze.

From India to Zambia, city officials are increasingly looking into intermediate forms of land documentation. While city officials do not generally have the authority to issue titles or deeds, intermediate forms of documentation issued by local authorities provide a useful tool for recognizing entrenched de facto land rights that provide a degree of security to citizens while also filling the data gap for government decision making and planning.

Cadasta Foundation is currently working in a number of jurisdictions where city officials have elected not to wait for land professionals and government ministries to issue formal titles or deeds, and are instead taking it upon themselves to issue intermediate documentation.

In the town of Mufulira, Zambia, OpenStreetMap (OSM) Zambia used Cadasta’s tools to document the recognized property rights of an informal settlement. Following a brief remote training by Cadasta’s staff, the OSM team trained thirty community members – nearly half of which were women – to collect land rights information using Cadasta’s tools. Despite having little experience using smartphone technologies, the team was able to record the rights of over five thousand households and properties in just two weeks.

Working with OSM Zambia, the City Council of Mufulira is using the data to assist in their planning and infrastructure delivery and to document land rights by issuing Certificates of Occupancy.

The example of Mufulira can be replicated in other districts. Indeed, the Zambian Ministry of Local Government is working closely with OSM Zambia and Cadasta to identify ways to replicate the project and expand the available data on housing and land use. With collaborative and fit-for-purpose approaches such as Cadasta’s tools, the technology now allows for cost-effective measures in closing the data gap; ensuring that citizens are protected, government has the data it needs to make critical decisions and provide services, and that businesses can utilize the information.

In the Indian state of Odisha, government officials made history and headlines on May 8th, 2018 with the Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission by handing out formal land rights to 2,000 landless residents of urban informal settlements. For the first time, these non-transferable, but inheritable titles recognize the rights of the informal settlement residents.

Speaking with the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the initiative, G. Mathivathanan, Commissioner at the State Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted “Now the slum dwellers can live without having fear of being evicted.”

The pilot project utilized Cadasta’s tools for data collection and was coupled with community data collectors, imagery from drones, smartphone applications, and participation from local government. The project has plans to expand to cover 250,000 households and a million citizens by the end of 2018. The initiative is already being touted as the “world’s largest slum land titling initiative.”

Intermediate forms of land documentation provide local governments a measure of freedom from constraints imposed by traditional land administration systems. With more fit-for-purpose approaches to data collection – as compared to the often time consuming, complex, and expensive services from lawyers, notaries, and surveyors – data can be collected and managed according to appropriate standards. There will always will be a need for exacting cadastral surveys, however, such precision need not apply to all parts of a country, such as rural areas and informal urban settlements. In these areas, the cost of property does not justify an expensive survey, and the incremental improvement of the data can allow for the gradual improvement of rights while providing the data needed by local governments.

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