As members of the land community, we know that access to a stable and flourishing piece of land, even the smallest plot or parcel, has the potential to be ground-breaking and life-changing. It means the difference between health and illness, between being read and illiterate, and in the most extreme cases, the difference between being fed and hungry. In essence, it determines one’s life path, the key factor between qualifying for essential government services and living at the peripheries and margins of society. Land is indeed power and life. Perhaps most interestingly, and most often overlooked, land is an essential source of identity. History, culture and ancestors of communities are often tied up and steeped in land. Without land, a community can often lose its distinctive and rich features. The importance of this resource, it’s influence, mean that land issues readily lend themselves to conflict. After all, basic notions of human psychology and behavior show that we are prepared to fight for the things that matter to us in some integral and deep way.
Now, more than ever, the role of land and natural resources in conflict is attracting increased attention. This is, in part, because of recent studies showing that land issues can not only contribute to the outbreak of violent conflict, but contribute to their prolonged perpetuation. What is more is that conflicts associated with natural resources are twice as likely to relapse. It is no secret that the Arab world is rife with conflict today, from Syria to Yemen, the region is facing some of the worst humanitarian crises. Many of these conflicts are centered around land and other vital natural resources, such as water. In Syria, for example, the years long conflict has put a perhaps irreversible burden on the country’s land and water resources. Despite this reality, governments and the international community have stayed away from developing systematic and effective strategies to address land grievances and conflicts. As in so many other cases, land is often seen as too technically complicated to bring about any meaningful, lasting resolution. There is no doubt that this is a mistake. It’s a mistake because managing these issues in a productive manner helps to avoid disenfranchisement of local populations, a primary factor of recurring instability. It also helps to reengage populations in agricultural production, and has positive effects on food security and trade opportunities, which are so important to recovery.
While conflicts such as these are prevalent globally, what is missing in the region is an effective mechanism to discuss these grievances and to strategize as to how land can be used to leverage peace, or at the very least improved conflict resolution. It’s a complicated and complex process, but according to Oumar Sylla, Land and Global Land Tool Network Unit Leader, there is hope. “There are now key processes and pillars in place that have brought attention to the centrality of land issues in developmental processes. Key among these are the SDGs.”
This is one of the goals of the upcoming Arab Land Conference. The conference is set to take place in Dubai from the 26-28 February and hopes to highlight the cross-cutting nature of land by discussing a wide variety of interconnected issues. These include women’s land rights, land and business, land and technology, land, housing and refugee rights, as well as land and conflict. Oumar concludes his talk with us by saying the following: “What we are hoping for is ownership and commitment from the delegates of the conference. This will move it from a one-off event to an efficient means of attaining change.”
This blog is part of a series devoted to raising awareness of the key issues that will be explored at the First Arab Land Conference. To be part of the event’s discussions, follow the Twitter hashtag #arablandconference2018 or follow the handles @landportal @GLTNnews @UNHabitat @WorldBank