It is widely understood that effective use of land, the sustainable production of food and development are linked. Yet, creating effective policy, which takes into account broader notions such as economic prosperity and social justice, especially in the context of competing claims to land use and title, still presents significant challenges. The difficulties are compounded by the fragmented nature of information resources about land.
There are many sources of information about land, but their visibility, accessibility, consistency and completeness vary enormously. Finding solid evidence upon which to base policy and practice is a daunting task, and consequently, progress on land governance is threatened by lack of good information. It is paramount that awareness is raised among key policy makers on the importance of building an effective land information ecosystem.
It is in this context that, following the webinar on “Sharing and Exchange: The Land Information Ecosystem in the Arab region” Rafic Khouri briefly gives his thoughts on the most effective ways to nurture an information ecosystem on land in the Arab region, while stimulating knowledge sharing, collaboration and exchange.
Land Portal: In promoting more open data on land as well as more access to information, what are the particular complexities of the Arab context?
Rafic Khouri: I think that we have several problems with the geographic information. First of all, we have a tradition of geo - mapping being done or produced exclusively by the military. We have a problem where it has become a tradition that the state has the monopoly on creating maps. We also have a big centralization which does not allow people, citizens, NGOs or whoever, to take part in the job. As we know today, of course, anybody can take part in mapping, with devices that can be acquired at a reasonable price. I think that this tradition of centralism, and also of secrecy, because of course the Arab world is also confronted with security problems that everybody hears about, creates a special atmosphere, which is not favorable to setting up the whole system of geographic information in the area. Unfortunately, the Arab world does not spend much money in terms of research and development. This is also an important component. My conclusion from that is that we have to build capacities of course, building capacity is a fundamental issue, but we also have to build confidence. Confidence is also a matter that requires that all the people who know how to deal with these issues of mapping get together. It is essential that we try to build a kind of club or association to coordinate, discuss technicalities. In short, all actors should meet.
Land Portal: How can we ensure that information that is already available is accessed and used. Do you have some examples to share with us from the Arab region?
Rafic Khouri: I don't really have any examples, but I have some recommendations and proposals to make. I think that people coming from different specialties and different professions have to meet the people who work on data and on geographic information. I think that they should do what has been done in more than twenty European countries, that is a national association of people working on geographic information. This is something that is very important. It can be the place where people would exchange experiences, identify their lives, their capacities, their limits, both technical and economic and political as well, so that an internal debate takes place about the different actors and stakeholders and is discussed together. I think this is something fundamental that is something that exists, all over Europe in all the European countries. I don't understand why in the Arab countries we don't have such experiences and such associations, but it proved to be very problematic. So, this is a big problem. In the end, it is also a problem related to the essence of development of capacities.