Land is critically important for the development process in many ways. It is the source of livelihoods for many; it is the locus of shelter for all. Access to land and secure property rights are key factors for social stability, for promoting investment, and for sustainable management of land-based resources. Land use choices influence the shape and sustainability of the world’s rapidly growing cities, as well as the future prospects of agriculture, forests, pastures and watersheds. Revenue generated from land plays a critical role in government finances, while efficient, accessible and transparent land markets are central to a country’s overall economic health. For Indigenous Peoples and other local communities, land is often at the core of cultural identifies and economic aspirations.
Because of the cross-cutting significance of land, land law covers a wide spectrum of issues, from land tenure, to land use planning, land markets and administration, and the resolution of land disputes. As such, many different types of operational and analytical initiatives at the World Bank have important land law dimensions.
At the center of the Bank’s global land agenda have been projects supporting land administration, titling and registration. A key feature in all such projects has been in-depth assessment of the legal framework for land and identification of options for needed reforms. At the same time, even where land itself is not the principal focus of a Bank initiative, understanding land law regimes is often a crucial factor because land rights, rules and responsibilities may be significantly related to project objectives. This is frequently the case, for example, in projects involving agriculture, infrastructure, environment, forest management, gender, urban development, resettlement, governance, access to justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The Environmental and International Law Unit of the World Bank’s Legal Vice Presidency engages in Bank land-related work in a variety of ways. The Unit supports projects (lending, AAA, etc.) across all regions of the Bank, by assessing national land law frameworks and assisting in the design and supervision of land law reform components. Depending on the needs of a particular project, the Unit provides comparative law expertise and access to global best practices on a range of legal subjects, from land tenure and titling to land use planning, governance and indigenous land rights. The Unit is also frequently involved in the assessment of national land laws as they relate to implementation of the Bank safeguard policies, in particular those related to involuntary resettlement, indigenous peoples, protected areas and forests. Increasingly, the Unit is involved in assessing land tenure-related dimensions of the Bank’s climate change initiatives, including the Bio-Carbon Fund portfolio and the recently-launched Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
Land law is inherently local in nature and rooted in the particular histories and traditions of any given society. Land laws in some countries comprise a complex mix of statutory rules and customary law. In providing advice, therefore, the Unit takes particular care to ensure that Bank land initiatives apply international norms and comparative lessons in a way that is tailored to local realities and to new development challenges as they come into focus.