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Land tenure in conflict and post-conflict situations

Violent conflict often forces people to flee their homes in search for safety. But when the fighting ends, changes in land distribution and transformations in property rights often leaves a significant proportion of the affected population having to claim or re-claim access to their land and land-based resources.

While the relationship between land and conflict is complex, it is clear that competition over land has been a critical cause of violence in some conflicts (e.g. Rwanda, Colombia) and an underlying factor in many others (e.g. Mozambique, East Timor, Sudan and Bosnia). Violence has also triggered new competition over land, as well massive population movement and forcible displacement.

Access to land should therefore be of particular concern to humanitarian agencies, especially with respect to the return of refugees and IDPs. The issue affects both the choice to return and the prospects for recovery. Yet an understanding of ownership, use and access to land is minimal and large-scale return programmes rarely incorporate sufficient analysis of the local land tenure situation. Agencies tend to see land ownership problems as too sensitive to be addressed and as a result approaches tend to be superficial and ad hoc.

Recent experience, however, has shown that it is possible and relevant to invest in analysis while the crisis is still going on. What is more, doing so can result in the development of more adequate policies for the post-conflict phase.

The project approach

This two-year study led by the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI is examining land tenure issues in countries affected by or emerging from conflict and seeking to gather understanding of how humanitarian organisations respond to these issues in their assistance and programming. Three case studies (Angola, Colombia and Rwanda), a number of commissioned pieces on Sudan and various small studies (Afghanistan, Cote D'Ivoire, East Timor, Liberia and Sierra Leone) have been carried out in 2007. Available studies will be posted on this webpage throughout the life of the project.


Samir Elhawary