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IISD Reporting Services UN-HABITAT

ARC Briefing Note on Urban Land in Africa

Volume 10, No. 2

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

30 October 2007

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The United Nations Human Settlements Programme’s (UN-HABITAT) side event on ‘urban land in Africa’ took place on Wednesday, 24 October 2007, in conjunction with the Fifth Session of the African Committee on Sustainable Development (ACSD-5) being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 22-25 October 2007. The event discussed UN-HABITAT’s perspectives and work in the area of urban land, particularly in Africa, as well as urban land challenges and opportunities for African countries.

Brief history

Africa is the world’s fastest urbanizing region, with current trends showing that 90% of new developments in cities occur in slums. Considering that the majority of Africa’s population lives in cities urban land is central for any strategy to improve conditions and achieve sustainable development. There is a wide recognition that urban lands are the most profitable, dynamic, contentious, valuable, sought after, and yet less regulated (informal land market) whereby vested interests are tapping into the niche at the expense of the poor and the public benefits. Evidence shows that rapid concentration and movements in African cities increase conflicts over lands.

UN-HABITAT is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. UN-HABITAT’s work on promoting ‘Sustainable Urbanization’ has two major goals, namely: promoting adequate shelter for all; and achieving ‘Sustainable Urban Development.’

Land (particularly in urban and peri-urban areas) is central in UN-HABITAT’s strategy to promote sustainable urbanization. UN-HABITAT adopts a holistic approach on land, particularly considering various aspects such as land policy, tenure security, land administration, land management, land tax and land re-distribution or land reform. For example, if a country wants to upgrade a slum area they would need a land policy as to how state land can be used for the urban poor and/or how private land can be acquired and/or expropriated. This aspect brings in compensation policies and issues of land tax. Also, to upgrade slums it would have to be decided what type of land tenures would suit the newly upgraded residents, and of course upgrading itself is a form of land management. Without adequate land administration systems giving information about where is the state land, private land, existing slums etc it would be difficult, if not impossible, to create a physical plan of the area for upgrading, including the resettlement of people who are occupying roads or railways or are in hazardous areas.

Equally, without such information from a land administration system it would be difficult to service the area sustainably, both in terms of maintenance of infrastructure and for cost recovery purposes.

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