Returnees become certified land owners

25 May 2012

Returnees become certified land owners

24 May 2012 - About 900 returnees in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal received land certificates from the state government today at a ceremony held in Apada, a returnee settlement near the capital Aweil.

Governor Lt. Gen. Paul Malong Awan officially launched the initiative, which transfers land to resettle about 1,250 households in Nyalat, about 6 kilometres west of Aweil. The layout plans include residential plots, with a provision for public utilities, social and community facilities.

Also present at the ceremony were state authorities, UN officials and representatives of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as non-governmental organizations.

Addressing the gathering, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Country Director George Conway noted that land ownership was an integral part of any resettlement and development programme.

"Returnees are still coming to Northern Bahr El-Ghazal and so this is an ongoing process, which UNDP shall continue to support," he said.

UNDP and USAID assisted the government with processes and equipment for efficient land allocation and management. The project is being carried out in four states with the highest concentration of returnees – Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, Unity, Upper Nile and Warrap.

The number of people who have returned to Northern Bahr El-Ghazal since October 2011 hit about 76,000 this week, according to Taksure Megara, head of the state Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.

"We thank UNDP, USAID and all our development partners for supporting us and helping empower our returned people so that they can restart their lives," said Governor Awan, after handing over certificates to some of the returnees.

"It is also good to institutionalize the land ownership," he said. "Giving them land ownership certificates empowers them. Even if war broke out now, they can always come back with proof that this was their land."

According to a press release from the state's Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, land allocation and management was carried out to curb the challenges of returnees choosing to settle in urban areas.

"The initial assumption was that 80% of the returnees would settle in rural areas and only 20% would remain in the urban areas," the statement said. "Instead the reverse happened: Over 80% of the returnees opted to settle in urban areas and less than 20% moved on to the rural areas as their final destinations.

Consequently, slum areas spurted quickly, stressing the weak public facilities and utilities beyond limit."

UNDP state coordinator in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, Ephrem Israel, explained that the certificates and plot allocations were generated from a database, which will ensure that no one receives more than one allocation.

"Each certificate also has a plot map with coordinates, which is a major factor of development in a place where land wrangles are rampant," he said. "In the long run, this will be useful in settling any conflicts that may arise over plot borders."

Mr. Israel added that the database would also be useful in helping the government to monitor its citizens, curb crime and collect taxes.