By Zoe Tabary
WASHINGTON - Nearly one in three people living in West and Central Africa fear losing their homes and land in the next five years, according to a survey of 33 countries, making it the region where people feel most insecure about their property.
More than two in five respondents from Burkina Faso and Liberia worry their home could be taken away from them, revealed Prindex, a global property rights index which gauges citizens' views.
In West Africa, "a history of governments and investors seizing land for large projects has made people more insecure," said Malcolm Childress, executive director of the Global Land Alliance, a Washington-based think tank that compiles the index.
Insecurity can lead to people struggling to plan for their futures, holding back entire economies, Childress said.
"In countries like Rwanda, however, which are mapping and registering customary land, that uncertainty is much lower," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that only 8 percent of the country's respondents feared losing their homes.
In Southeast Asia and Latin America, which Childress said had strong institutions documenting land, only 21 percent and 19 percent of people, respectively, reported feeling insecure about their property.
The survey, conducted by U.S. polling firm Gallup and launched in Washington, D.C., at a World Bank conference on Tuesday, is the largest ever effort documenting how secure people feel about their homes and land at a global level.
A lack of formal documentation and poor implementation of land laws threaten tenure in many countries, experts say, with more than 5 billion people lacking proof of ownership, according to the Lima-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy.
Survey respondents cited being asked by their landlord to leave the property as well as family disagreements as the main reasons for feeling insecure.
The index also found that 12 percent more women than men felt they might lose their property in the event of divorce or death of a spouse.
That gap shows "there is a long way to go in meeting the aspiration of equal economic rights for women worldwide," said Anna Locke from the Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank that is involved in the index.
The survey for the first time sampled respondents in Britain, where 11 percent of people feared losing their home, mainly due to a lack of money or other resources.
More than 50,000 people were questioned about ownership or tenure in 33 countries – most of them from Africa, Latin America and Asia. Over the next year, the poll will be extended to 140 countries.
Prindex is an initiative of the Omidyar Network - with which the Thomson Reuters Foundation has a partnership on land rights coverage - and the UK's Department for International Development.