‘Sustainability is key to land administration’

‘Sustainability is key to land administration’


The World Bank has been supporting the implementation of land administration and management projects throughout the world. How critical is the need for land administration reform

Keith Clifford Bell
Keith Clifford Bell
Sustainable Development Department
Social, Environment & Rural Development
East Asia Pacific Region
The World Bank

The World Bank has been supporting the implementation of land administration and management projects throughout the world. How critical is the need for land administration reform?
Of all the development sectors supported by the World Bank, land is amongst the most challenging, political, controversial and complex. Land issues are deeply rooted in countries’ histories and cultures. At its most extreme, land issues have been identified as cause of civil and international wars and even genocide. Furthermore, land issues are often highly politically sensitive, implying that attempts to address them need to be solidly grounded in empirical research, often building on carefully evaluated pilots. The risk matrix for all land-related interventions is indeed high and such risks run far more deeply than reputational risks to donor institutions, as the lives and the livelihoods of individuals is very much affected. The continuing legacy of major natural disasters has emphasised the critical importance of land and property rights in reconstruction and rehabilitation. In my view, land can be directly or indirectly linked to the achievement of each of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The World Bank has been directly engaged in supporting the land sector for more than thirty years. Over the past twenty years, the Bank has supported 76 dedicated land administration projects in 48 countries totaling an investment of around USD 3.6 billion, and in addition, a further 228 projects (in 78 countries) had a secondary focus in land. Currently, the World Bank is providing funding of around USD 1.5 billion for around forty-six projects which are classified as land administration and management projects.

What are the key components in achieving sustainable land administration? What are the complexities involved?
Sustainability is absolute vital. For investment in a land administration project to be considered successful, it should be expected that the developments by way of donor engagement are sustainable. Sustainability has many elements including: capacity; budget; good governance, transparency and accountability; security of land records from loss, destruction and fraud and reliable and consistent delivery of services which are accessible, government commitment and public confidence, to name but a few. There should be sufficient capacity in the public sector and hopefully also private sector. Land administration agencies should have sufficient recurrent budget to maintain their operations and have access to additional investment budgets to undertake the necessary developments and improvements to maintain their efficiency and effectiveness.

World Bank has been recently involved in projects investing in the development of national spatial data infrastructures. How can NSDI act as an enabler of reform?
Strengthening land administration systems through building NSDI may support improving tenure, promoting social stability and reducing conflict, stimulating agricultural and rural productivity, encouraging land improvement and more sustainable resource management. A better cadastre, underpinning the NSDI provides a more complete and reliable basis for taxation collection and better managing state assets. Through better access to land information, transparency may be increased and there may be enhanced public disclosure of land-related matters such as land use plans and development proposals. However, let me stress – “may” – as in all of these benefits, it all depends on whether good governance prevails with laws being appropriately enforced and civil servants acting ethically and in the public good.

NSDI, which encompasses not only the data, but the official designation of custodians, and the official protocols for data sharing will improve the overall efficiency of data collection and maintenance and enable government decision-making to be more consistent drawing on the authoritative data sets, with advice from the designated responsible agency.

Land-related agencies should be adopting whole-of-government approaches to NSDI and not seeking to build silos to enshrine weak land administration systems and poor governance.

World Bank has stressed on the importance of ICT including geospatial technology. What is the role and benefits of geospatial technology in land administration?
Over the past thirty years, considerable progress has been made since the initial work on first registration land programmes using largely analogue methods of data capture, presentation and records management. The early adoption of total stations and electronic data recording by land surveyors, the post processing using computer-aided drafting and GIS, as well as data storage in relational database management systems, all have been highly successful. Efforts towards building land information systems, or multipurpose cadastres, of key national datasets for NSDI have been focused on maturing the core building blocks of appropriate institutional frameworks, technical standards, identifying fundamental national datasets, building the enabling ICT infrastructure and enhancing the available skills base through training and education programmes. As technology has so rapidly improved, it has also converged with communications, positioning, measuring, processing, presentation, analysis and storage technologies which are now interconnected or even merged. Technology costs have markedly reduced in real terms and computing power and storage are now such that they not limiting factors.

What are the emerging trends in geospatial technology vis-à-vis land administration?
Overall I see three very profound trends: Emergence of neo-geography and the geospatial Web is leading to many more bottom-up approaches to adoption and application of geospatial technology. Trends in this space are: user generated maps, editable public maps, online map versioning, user feedback (statistics, ratings, tags and comments), portable content, geospatial content discoverable by search engines, more informal bottom-up spatial data infrastructures and automatic meta-data creation.

Mobile geospatial applications and the growth in location based services, incorporating citizen-based data inputs from mobile phones and social media. Move to operational earth observation services by means of: standard satellite sensors; constellations of satellites for regular delivery of products; and creation of large institutional markets for these products to drive down costs.

Let me elaborate. We see an ever growing dialogue and advocacy for investing in “spatially enabled society,” the evolving concept where location, place and geospatial information provide the primary means for governments, business, communities, families and individuals to conduct their affairs and lead their lives. At the same time, we note that spatial enablement is not just about developing and using geospatial technology and other related ICT, but is a concept whereby the government and society draw upon the land administration system and spatial data infrastructure.

Advanced economies have continued to exploit the convergence of a range of geospatial and ICT for service delivery, commerce, transportation (road, rail, maritime and air), agriculture, natural resources, energy, national security, policing and public safety, climate change and disaster risk reduction and response. On the other hand, developing countries, with international support, have been more focused on investing in the basic systems for land and property rights and planning, which over time, will evolve into more sophisticated systems including spatial data infrastructures.

Over the past decade or so, cloud computing investments, especially from major players in the ICT industry, have driven many of the geospatial developments and user demand to become more enabled by geospatial technology. Cloud computinghas been fundamental to the growth of geospatial systems development, especially with the availability of cloud geospatial data such as Google Earth. As access to geospatial technologies such as GPS-enabled cellphones, web-based communications and the cloud grows, increasingly non-traditional data providers have emerged and are contributing to geospatial data.

Even as you highlight emerging importance of geospatial technology and “spatially-enabled society”, you have also talked about the flip side of overdependence on the technology. In your view, what can be done to ensure pragmatic investment in geospatial technology?
For land-related professionals, especially surveyors and spatial information scientists, it is essential that their engagement in land administration and governance reform, is based on prudent and balanced application of new technologies and appropriate levels of spatial accuracies. These professionals must also recognise the broader social, cultural, political, economic and financial factors that shape the cadastres and NSDIs. The focus of thinking and investment should be on good governance and completeness, reliability, fitness-foruse and cost-effectiveness of land-related data rather than spatial accuracy.

All too often we see some eminent and distinguished experts advocating top-end solutions which are well beyond the needs of these countries and would never be able to be sustained once donors have left the scene. To use an old adage, it is important that the dog wags the tail, and not the tail wagging the dog. Too often, the gee-whiz factor of spatial systems gets too much air time and funding support, and the business processes and systems, such as land administration, get insufficient attention. Investment in modern information communications technologies is very important for improving land administration systems, but it is the key issues of policy and governance that should be driving the reform agenda, not technology.

ICT, and specifically geospatial information technologies, will increasingly be critical to the support provided by the World Bank. The importance of the cadastre, in its broadest sense, and its governance, remains paramount in almost all development interventions. It therefore follows that investment in land administration systems should explicitly see the development of NSDI and spatial enablement of the government as part of overall reform. However, such investments need to be calibrated for the specific country requirements, including capacity and sustainability.