Geotechnologies important for achieving SDGs: World Bank economist

Geotechnologies important for achieving SDGs: World Bank economist

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Klaus Deininger, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank, believes having a clear understanding of who has the rights to the land ramps up investments

How is the World Bank promoting and encouraging the use of geospatial technologies for a better world?
Essentially, we provide loans and grants to our client countries. All the areas that we are working on are aimed at alleviating poverty — be it agriculture, effective land use for urban development, infrastructure, transport or private investment. Geospatial technologies have completely transformed each of these fields and our client countries are slowly catching up on that. So, the World Bank is playing an all-important role of providing these countries with guidance and standards, and is also helping them to digest the avalanche of information available in the best possible manner to help reduce poverty.

Has the World Bank or the United Nations given any mandates to these countries on the use of spatial technology?
We are working very closely with the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) to develop standards and facilitate interoperability among different government departments in our client countries. We are conscious that they should not acquire software solutions that would lock them in a particular system. Instead, the information should be portable. Various departments should be able to use it at the same time to make the most effective use of the acquired resources. Also, we are increasingly helping countries to develop open source solutions and making sure that these solutions can be maintained. All this helps to maintain transparency of the market.

Can you elaborate on the technologies under your radar?
All the technologies that we are focusing on are in the context of specific projects. So, if we talk about infrastructure, we need mapping capabilities. Coming to urban development and city planning, we need to make sure that infrastructure stays ahead of the expansion of cities. You also need to upgrade the existing infrastructure. We are helping our client countries to access geospatial technologies in many different ways, starting from mapping to information processing and making sure that this information is then shared transparently with the end user.

How can land rights be connected to a better, sustainable world?
Land rights are fundamental because, on the one hand, land is the key asset for many of the poor people in this world, and it also has a very strong gender dimension because women are discriminated against or disadvantaged in terms of access to land. Moreover, if we want to improve productivity, then having a clear understanding of who has the rights to the land is fundamental because then not only will people be able to make investments, they would also be able to obtain credit that can allow them to make investments. And if you talk about spatial planning and land acquisition by the private sector, then good land information is absolutely essential. A big part of the World Bank’s portfolio in that area has been to help clarify land rights and document existing rights. That ultimately leads to the development of geospatial solutions, and in that context, we are working with yield forecasting, soil mapping, and documenting the resource data.

How can effective land management be connected to the building of future smart cities?
Since there are so many different institutions involved in the development process of a smart city, coordination between these institutions often becomes very difficult. That’s why having a geospatial platform, where you have different layers which can be accessed by different departments, is very important. The World Bank is supporting this cause very strongly through the development of appropriate standards.

Rapid urbanization is also leading to rapid depletion of natural resources. What is the World Bank doing for a sustainable world?
When it comes to monitoring land use, there are two elements to it. One is allowing the cities to provide infrastructure in a way that they densify, rather than spread out. So you don’t get traffic congestions on long commutes, you get cities that are dense and green. The other thing you can do is to provide the necessary resources in terms of food and other minerals for cities to strive and to prosper. This requires proper land management in rural areas.

So, mapping those land resources and being clear about who owns that land is a very important part of the World Bank portfolio. Countries need to identify the different land uses they have, the programs already in place and the regulations that they put in place in order to encourage proper land use throughout the spectrum.

We are helping our client countries to access geospatial technologies in several ways, starting from mapping to information processing, and making sure that this information is then shared transparently with the end user

Why is it important to scale up land governance?
It is very important to draw together the lessons that our client countries have learned through years of experience. We also see a very big potential in terms of harnessing the revolution in terms of data. And that relates both to spatial and administrative data that our countries  are experiencing. This allows us to build on successes much faster and implement them on a big scale. Technology is playing a very important part in this process. It is what is driving that revolution by not only reducing the cost of securing the rights of the poor people, but also by making it a participatory process. With crowdsourcing and mobile technology, you can actually equip the staff in the field as well as get feedback in real time from the people who you are dealing with.

How are these systems bringing about a change to the economy and contributing to the SDGs?
One example that comes to mind would be Rwanda where the government, with our support, has started to document the rights of everybody in the country. This started in 2008-09 with the pilot and finished in 2012. Now we are seeing the benefits in an impact evaluation in terms of people moving out of agriculture sector. There is a significant increase in the market activity. We see women empowerment with women actually starting up their own businesses. There is also a noticeable increase, surprisingly, in mortgages.

Is the World Bank trying to sync its agenda with the SDGs?
The focus on land in the sustainable development goals provides an opportunity for us to help countries set a target realistically, and provide them with the means to implement these policies. That is where geospatial technology plays a very important role, and we will be looking forward to collaborating with the geospatial community much more closely. “The doing business” indicator is a very good example of where we can take disaggregated data and help countries to identify their needs and implement programs accordingly.