Land administration and ICT

Nov 2011 | One Comment

This paper discusses the World Bank support for sustainable land reform, focusing on the East Asia Region, with particular emphases on initiatives in land governance, land development investment, tenure security, NSDI, e-government, land tax, spatial planning, disaster response and mitigation. We have published the fi rst part of the paper in last issue. We present here the second part of the paper

Keith Clifford Bell

World Bank, East Asia Pacific Region
Washington DC, USA

Over the past thirty years, considerable progress has been made since the initial work on first registration programs using largely analogue, methods of data capture, presentation and records management. The early adoption of total stations and electronic data recording by land surveyors, post processing using computer-aided drafting (CAD) and GIS, as well as data storage in relational database management systems have been highly successful. The usual experiences have been through the nurturing of Land Information System (LIS) pilot programs to promote the development of national inventories of land ownership and land use records in support of robust systems of land administration. Efforts towards building multipurpose cadastres (or LIS) of key national datasets for NSDI have been focused on maturing the core building blocks of appropriate institutional frameworks, technical standards, identifying fundamental national datasets, building the enabling technical ICT infrastructure, and enhancing the available skills base through training and education programs. As technology has so rapidly improved, it has also converged, with communications, positioning, measuring, processing, presentation, analysis and storage technologies now interconnected or even merged. Technology costs have markedly reduced in real terms and computing power and storage are now such that they not limiting factors.

Ongoing rapid advancements in ICT, including the construction of optic fiber networks, and improved telecommunication infrastructure across East Asia is connecting rural and urban populations. The foundations are being laid for a host of e-government services and the building of NSDI that will reach beyond cities and into the rural provinces. Improving tenure security and access to land is central to alleviating poverty and advancing rural livelihoods. A suite of innovative technologies and solutions are available to providing East Asia’s poorest rural and remote communities access to land and property services.

In the East Asia Region, it is interesting to reflect on developments in the country that first received support from the World Bank some thirty years ago. In 2009, Thailand, the Cabinet approved that National ICT Strategic Master Plan 2009- 2012, identifying the NSDI and land information from land registration as being one of the key pillars. In April 2011, the Thai government announced its plans to launch the country’s NSDI portal by 2012 which will serve as the national gateway for spatial information and pave the way towards “Spatially Enabling” Thailand. The portal will act as a repository of metadata generated by data producers which will gradually provide services such as access to metadata of the Fundamental Geographic Data Set and well as other spatial data in Thailand. Thailand has a well established land registration system, which is largely still paper-based. But it works well, and Thailand is now about to take the next steps towards NSDI and e-governance. Other countries are also investing heavily in ICT, building their respective NSDI and pursuing e-services.

Strengthening land administration systems through building NSDI may support improving tenure, promoting social stability and reducing conflict, stimulating agricultural and rural productivity, encouraging land improvement and more sustainable resource management. A better cadastre, underpinning the NSDI provides a more complete and reliable basis for taxation collection and better managing state assets. Through better access to land information, transparency may be increased and there may be enhanced public disclosure of landrelated matters such as land use plans and development proposals. However, the author stresses “may” in all of these benefits, as it all depends on whether good governance prevails with laws being appropriately enforced and civil servants acting ethically and in the public good.

Duplication of data capture is frequently encountered in land administration projects. For example in the management of land concessions, different agencies are all too frequently embarking on maintaining their own individual digital cadastral databases, perhaps due to a lack of protocols for data sharing, unclear institutional mandates or even organizational rivalry. Data should only be captured once, and the maintenance of data should be the responsibility of the designated custodian agency. NSDI, which encompasses not only the data, but the official designation of custodians, and the official protocols for data sharing will improve the overall efficiency of data collection and maintenance and enable government decision-making to be more consistent drawing on the authoritative data sets, with advice from the designated responsible agency.
Land-related agencies, should be adopting whole-of-government approaches to NSDI and not seeking to build silos to enshrine weak land administration systems and poor governance. It is very important that agencies act transparently and accountably, providing full disclosure of their priorities, progress and investments in land administration systems and NSDI to maintain political and public confidence and support. Accordingly, investment in NSDI should promote better land governance and not promote strengthening of government silos.

Broader utilization of geospatial information technologies

Spatial Enablement

There is an ever growing dialogue and advocacy for investing in the “spatially enabled society”, the evolving concept where location, place and geospatial information provide the primary means for governments, business, communities, families and individuals to conduct their affairs and lead their lives (Rajabifard, 2010). Williamson et al (2010) suggest that spatial enablement is not just about developing and using GIS technologies, but is a concept whereby government and society draw upon the land administration system and spatial data infrastructure. However, this author would suggest that this concept may be better extended to include broader range of geospatial technologies and other related ICT. Over the past couple of decades all countries to a greater or lesser degree have been investing in their respective NSDI. Advanced economies have continued to exploit the convergence of the range of geospatial and ICT for service delivery, commerce, transportation (road, rail, maritime and air) , agriculture, natural resources, energy, national security, policing and public safety, climate change and disaster risk reduction and response. On the other hand, developing countries, with international support, have been necessarily more focused on investing in the basic systems for land and property rights and planning, which over time, will evolve into more sophisticated systems including spatial data infrstructures.

Over the past decade or so, cloud computing investments, especially from major players in the ICT industry like Microsoft , IBM and Google, have driven many geospatial developments and user demand to become more enabled by geospatial technology. Cloud computing, the idea of relying on webbased applications and storing data in the “cloud” of the Internet, has long been touted as a way to do business, and has been fundamental to the growth of geospatial systems development, especially with the availability of cloud geospatial data such as Google Earth.

As access to geospatial technologies such as GPS enabled cell-phones, webbased communications and the cloud grows, increasingly non-traditional data providers have emerged and are contributing geospatial data. Crowd sourced data is increasingly being seen as a vital part of the geospatial landscape especially in community-driven development and disaster response. Therefore, putting all of the above into context, perhaps three significant trends have emerged:
Emergence of neo-geography and the geospatial web is leading to many more bottom- up approaches to adoption and application of geospatial technology. Trends in this space are: user generated maps, editable public maps, online map versioning, user feedback (statistics, ratings, tags, comments), portable content, geospatial content discoverable by search engines, a more towards informal bottom up spatial data infrastructures, automatic meta-data creation.

Mobile geospatial applications and the growth in location based services, incorporating citizen based data inputs from mobile phones and social media.
Move to Operational Earth Observation services by means of: (i) standard satellite sensors; (ii) constellations of satellites for regular delivery of products; and (iii) creation of large institutional markets for these products to drive down costs.

World development report fi ndings

Successive recent annual World Development Reports have highlighted the ever increasing importance of geospatial information technologies in supporting development as well as disaster response and risk reduction. One reason that policy makers have found it so difficult to curb the over-exploitation of land, water and their related ecosystems is that neither the managers nor the users of the resources have had access to reliable and timely information, especially information that is spatially referenced. The number of people affected by climate-related disasters is on the rise, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where rapid urbanization is taking place. Poor households are severely affected by climate change impacts as they have less access to protective assets and face higher exposure to environmental risks. With expected shifts in rainfall patterns, melting snow-packs and glaciers, stronger tropical cyclones, and a rising sea level, climate change will be a risk multiplier for the poor. All of this raises the demand for reliable geospatial information.

Social development and poverty

Fundamental to the achievement of the MDG is poverty alleviation. However, for a long time, especially for developing countries, there has existed inadequate and unreliable poverty mapping data for both rural and urban environments. In short, basic data about the location of the poor, has either not been available or has been unreliable. Geospatial information technology now provides new opportunities to answer basic questions about the spatial distribution of the poor especially in terms of rural poverty in relation to agriculture and markets, urban populations and slums, distribution and access to basic services, employment, hazardous marginal lands prone to disasters and so on.

Natural resources and agriculture

The “World Development Report 2010” stresses the importance of accurate and timely data, especially from remote sensing and other geographic information, and the application of ICT, advising that:

“One reason that policy makers have found it so difficult to curb the overexploitation of land and water and their related ecosystems is that neither the managers nor the users of the resources have accurate and timely information. ……… ………

….Research and development will be necessary to take full advantage of these new information technologies” and also “More reliable information can empower communities and change the governance of natural resources”.

Although the term “NSDI” has not been used specifically in the Report, it most certainly makes a strong case for investment in NSDI. More reliable information, especially geospatial information, can empower communities and change the governance of natural resources. Natural resource management often requires governments to set and enforce laws, limits, or prices. Political and socioeconomic pressures make this very difficult, especially where formal institutions are weak, and governance is inconsistently enforced. The growing global concern regarding FDI in land concessions especially for agri-business, forestry and mining highlights the weak governance that exists in many of the countries under threat and the lack of reliable spatially-referenced inventories of land and natural resources, land use planning and monitoring systems. In 2010, the World Bank, in collaboration with partners issued “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources”.


The World Bank has been very active in responding to major disasters, especially in the areas of damage assessments and reconstruction. Both Aceh and Haiti are two significant examples. Geospatial information technologies have been increasingly used, by both the World Bank and the international community. In addition to disaster response, disaster risk reduction has become increasingly important. Established in 2006, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) is a partnership of 36 countries and 6 international organizations committed to helping developing countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and adapt to climate change. Support for disaster risk reduction, involves the GFDRR working with partners to assemble large collections of geo-referenced data in order to develop country-specific and regional catastrophe risk models. Crowdsourced data and cloud-based data (and applications) are now a very important part of the GFDRR’s work as successfully demonstrated in the Haiti response and contrast with Aceh which largely relied on traditional sources of data only.

Environmental monitoring, climate change, carbon

The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is a World Bank program created to assist developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation (REDD). It has the dual objectives of building capacity for REDD in developing countries, and testing a program of performancebased incentive payments in some pilot countries. Designing and, if possible, implementing accurate measurements, monitoring and verification systems to enable countries to report on emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Satellite imagery and other geospatial information including Google Earth are being utilized for monitoring of REDD.

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, which aims at achieving an autonomous and operational Earth observation capacity. The objective is to rationalize the use of multiple-sources data to get a timely and quality information, services and knowledge, and to provide autonomous and independent access to information in relation to environment and security. In other words, it will pull together all the information obtained by environmental satellites, air and ground stations to provide a comprehensive picture of the “health” of Earth. The World Bank has a cooperative agreement with the European Space Agency to pilot services built around GMES.
To be concluded in December 2011

My Coordinates
His Coordinates
Phil Gabriel, Leocadia I Zak
Intergeo 2011
Mark your calendar
November 2011 TO October 2012

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One Comment »

  • Gulid Fareeq said:

    Very interesting, Mr Bell.

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