Housing, Land and Property
Housing, land and property (HLP) issues arise in every crisis, whether natural disaster or conflict. Poor land use and insecure HLP rights increase negative impacts of natural disasters, particularly for the most vulnerable populations. The occupation of land or property and the destruction of housing are often deliberate strategies during armed conflict. In both cases, forced displacement exposes vulnerable populations to additional risks – loss of homes, livelihoods, and their communities.
The Housing, Land and Property Area of Responsibility (HLP AoR) was created in 2007 as part of the broader process of humanitarian reform. As the designated Focal Point Agency for the HLP AoR at a global level, UNHABITAT coordinates the HLP AoR and is also the provider of last resort. The HLP AoR includes UN agencies and NGOs, as well as representatives of the Global Shelter Cluster, and the Mine Action and Rule of Law AoRs within the Global Protection Cluster.
The HLP issues matter due to the following reasons:
- Saving lives and facilitating humanitarian action. Delays finding suitable land and housing mean more people at risk of adverse weather, hunger, disease and crime, including gender-based violence.
- Peace and stability. HLP grievances are often the root cause of violent conflict. They can also prolong conflict – particularly when high value natural resources are involved. And, if not addressed after peace agreements, can contribute to a return to violence.
- Enable durable solutions. Displaced populations are often unable to return home because someone else is occupying their land or property. Secure HLP rights enable IDPs and refugees to return home, remain where they are or to move to a location where they feel safe.
- Restore livelihoods. Both urban and rural livelihoods depend on security of tenure. Farming and resource based livelihoods are particularly critical to food security for many rural households.
- Reduce risks, including of climate change. People with insecure HLP rights tend to live in the most hazard-prone areas (flood plains, steep slopes, low-lying coastal areas). Moreover, they will not invest in improving their situation without certainty that they will not be arbitrarily evicted in the future. Secure rights to appropriate land can reduce the negative impacts of disasters.
Housing, land and property rights include the full range of rights recognized by international and human rights law, as well as those rights held under customary land and practice. These include housing rights, land and natural resource rights, as well as other property rights. Some of the common HLP issues that arise in crisis contexts are included below, as well as some of the more structural causes of HLP problems:
- Access to land for humanitarian action. Safe and suitable land is required for a wide variety of reasons: temporary and transitional shelter, camps, sanitation, schools, clinics, alternate roads and for building new settlements. Clarifying land rights is often problematic, particularly in fragile states and disaster-prone countries.
- Occupation of land and property. Whether in good faith or as part of a deliberate occupation strategy, abandoned land and property is often occupied. In some cases, there have been successive waves of displacement and occupation, making it very challenging to determine how rights should be restored.
- Return and durable solutions. In the absence of secure and enforceable HLP rights, IDPs and refugees often end up as the ‘residual caseload’ in camps or collective centres, sometimes with serious consequences. Displacement can also lead to serious conflicts with host communities.
- Lost documents. Land and property documents are often lost, damaged or even stolen during disasters or conflict, yet can be essential for accessing humanitarian assistance or for reclaiming housing, land and property.
- Land and resource conflicts. Disputes are common in all societies, but disasters and armed violence can dramatically increase the volume – often in contexts where existing systems are barely coping.
- Restitution. Restoring HLP rights and assets after conflict is critical to post-crisis recovery and a sustainable peace, as recognized by the Pinheiro Principles.
- Lost or hazardous land. Landslides, floods and earthquakes can cause land to disappear or be rendered inhabitable. Risk analysis, land allocation and resettlement require dedicated expertise to ensure people can rebuild their lives as quickly as possible. ‘No build zones’ have also proven difficult to implement.
- Evictions and land grabbing. Powerful interests may use the crisis as a pretext to remove tenants, squatters or other informal rights holders. Governments may also wish to “re-build” cities or promote new investments – sometimes these come at the expense of vulnerable groups.
- Disinheritance. In a context when only some 2% of women’s land rights globally are registered, women are particularly vulnerable to dis-inheritance by male relations. Children’s rights may also be a risk from unscrupulous guardians.
- Succession/Transfers. Administrative systems are rarely able to cope with the surge in demand for land and property rights to be transferred from deceased family members to their heirs.
Many of these issues, however, are symptoms of more structural institutional deficits such as: dysfunctional housing and land markets; lack of clarity between statutory and customary laws (legal pluralism); weak dispute resolution systems; discriminatory laws and policies; weak land administration systems; structural landlessness and weak land governance. Addressing these challenges is vital to long term stability, resilience and sustainable development.
As part of the overall GPC Help Desk initiative, the Housing, Land and Property AoR facilitates a Help Desk function through which you can directly send a request for technical support on Housing, Land and Property – related topics. Read more.
Housing, Land and Property Coordinator