Access to Secure and Equitable Land in the Post 2015 SDGs

Guest Post By: Jane W. Katz (Director of International Affairs & Programs, Habitat for Humanity International)

January 16, 2015

As the UN begins to define the Post 2015 Development Agenda, an ad hoc coalition of concerned organizations has joined together to address a major omission in the Open Working Group Proposal on Sustainable Development Goals and the Secretary-General Synthesis Report on the Post 2015 Development Agenda:  the lack of attention to security of tenure and equitable access to land. This omission is especially concerning as it relates to the most vulnerable populations in both urban and rural contexts. The coalition has developed a new technical brief titled Secure and Equitable Land Rights in the Post 2015 Agenda highlighting the critical need for secure and equitable land rights be included in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. The brief takes a particular focus on those living in poverty and ensuring that monitoring progress on land rights is measurable and feasible based on the organizations’ and communities’ experiences.

Access to land often lies at the heart of poverty housing, depriving the poor of the most basic physical, economic and psychological security of adequate shelter. Huge numbers of the people in need of adequate housing struggle on a daily basis with tenure security and fear of eviction. An even greater number lack proper documentation of the land on which they live. Improving access to land can address inequalities, reduce poverty, and increase economic growth in developing countries. It can provide opportunities for investment and the accumulation of wealth and, in some cases, it can encourage business development. More than improving economic conditions, access to land can provide a source of identity, status and political power, and can serve as a basis for the pursuit of other rights.

It is within this backdrop that Habitat for Humanity joins with other organizations in support of the new brief outlining the following essential elements:

  • Secure and equitable land rights, which are key to achieving sustainable development for all;
  • A stand-alone target promoting women’s land rights on gender equality; and
  • A reference to both women and men in all the other land-related targets.

As noted in the report, secure and equitable land rights, particularly for those living in poverty and using and managing ecosystems, are an essential element of an Agenda that has the ambition to be people-centered and planet-sensitive.  We applaud that land is mentioned in the documents, but only by singling out the need for equitable security of tenure and property rights in the targets can its importance be underscored.

Additionally, the brief recommends that the Post 2015 Agenda should explicitly include secure land rights within sustainable cities and human settlements.  Goal 11 of the Open Working Group’s final report aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” This goal includes targets on adequate housing, urban planning and disaster resilience and others which are closely linked to secure land rights. As UN-Habitat notes, “by 2030, about 3 billion people, or about 40 per cent of the world’s population, will need proper housing and access to basic infrastructure and services such as water and sanitation systems. This translates into the need to complete 96,150 housing units per day with serviced and documented land from now till 2030.”

In the Secretary General’s words, “demographic trends are changing our world…[and] these trends will have a direct impact on our goals and present both challenges and opportunities.” Without a focus on secure land rights in urban environments, these trends are likely to bring more challenges than opportunities.

As the negotiations begin on January 19, 2015 at the UN on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, Member States should remember that secure and equitable land rights are critical to achieving the SDGs and reducing poverty throughout the world.

Read more about the role of land and housing in the Post 2015 Agenda.

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