Weak governance in MENA region worsens deepening land crisis (WB Report)

Weak governance exacerbates the deepening land crisis in the Middle East and North Africa region, urging broad reforms to improve land use and access amid increasing stress from climate change and population growth, according to a new World Bank report titled “Land Matters: Can Better Governance and Management of Scarcity Prevent a Looming Crisis in the Middle East and North Africa?”.

“Now is the time to examine the impact of land issues that loom large in many public policy decisions but aren’t always explicitly acknowledged,” said?Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Quite simply, land matters. MENA’s growing population and the impact of climate change add urgency to addressing the land crisis.” he said.

The report also shows how continuing land deterioration in a region that is 84 percent desert worsens water scarcity issues that threaten food security and economic development. Using satellite imagery, the report shows that the area of land cultivated by MENA countries has decreased by 2.4% in 15 years, over the period 2003-2018.

This is the largest decline in the world, in a region that already has the lowest per capita cultivated land area and limited room for agricultural expansion.

Over the same period, the region’s population jumped 35%, and projections indicate that it is expected to increase by another 40% by 2050, to 650 million people.

Comparing land cover data with statistics on wealth inequality and other indicators, the report shows a correlation between land degradation and poor governance. In addition, state ownership of land is highest in the MENA region, but governments fail to manage land assets in ways that generate public revenues, the report says, while access to land is a severe constraint for 23 percent of firms in the manufacturing and service sectors.

Also impeding land access are social norms and laws regarding property that are more unfavorable for women in the MENA region compared to other regions, according to the report. In particular, women in MENA countries come under strong social pressure to renounce their inheritance rights over property, often without fair compensation.

Deep reforms called for

Reforms proposed by the report include establishing transparent market-driven processes to value and transfer land, as well as developing complete inventories of public land and improving the registration of land rights. These are necessary steps to support more efficient land use and land management decisions and to ensure that land serves social, economic and fiscal functions in a region where property taxes represent less than one percent of GDP.

Land policies can also help reduce gender inequalities. A tax on male beneficiaries when women renounce their inheritance rights to property could help reduce the gender gap, with the money collected funding initiatives promoting women’s empowerment, the report says.

The report notes that land scarcity and governance issues vary throughout the region, with countries requiring approaches that are tailored to their unique challenges.

Source: Tap News Agency