Gallup asked people around the world: How worried are you about losing your home? The findings may surprise you

A homeless man lies by the Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens, Greece, November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis/File Photo

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The results shed light on a global crisis lurking in plain sight"

By Yuliya Panfil, Investment Associate, Omidyar Network

One in four people are worried about losing their home against their will in the next five years, according to a nine-country Gallup-led survey on peoples’ perceptions of their property rights. The survey, which polled 11,000 people across Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Greece, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Nigeria, and Tanzania, was released this week as part of the Global Property Rights Index (PRIndex) initiative.

PRIndex aims to measure—for the first time ever—peoples’ perceptions of the security of their land and property rights on a global level, with a goal of expanding to 140 countries over the next three years.

The PRIndex findings are important because they provide context for international donors who have spent billions of dollars to help people around the world map, document, and defend their property rights. They also may provide a crucial data source for the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to measure as one of their indicators the proportion of the world’s adult population with secure rights to land.

The results shed light on a global crisis lurking in plain sight. If this data was to be extrapolated worldwide, these findings could potentially mean that two billion people around the world are scared that they’ll get booted from their homes or kicked off their land. And while a nine-country dataset is not robust enough to scientifically draw such a conclusion, even if it turned out to be half of that—one billion people—that’s still a big deal.

To many Americans, the problem of insecure property rights is foreign. Our land registries work well. Property documents are easy to get. And, barring extreme cases like eminent domain, we’re unlikely to be forced from our homes, assuming we’re paying our mortgage.

But that’s not the case in many places around the world. The World Bank estimates that only 30 percent of the world’s land rights are registered and recorded. In Africa, a measly 10 percent of rural land is registered. Even those with registered rights risk being kicked out of their homes due to corporate land grabs, land giveaways by corrupt governments, and ethnic conflict.

Without secure property rights, people have little incentive to invest in their home, or in their agricultural land if they are farmers. They don’t adopt productivity-boosting measures, don’t plant long-term crops, and don’t protect their property against the impacts of climate change. And forget about getting a bank loan without property documents.

Against this backdrop, it becomes critical to understand just how insecure people actually feel, why they feel insecure, and the impacts of their insecurity.

As PRIndex continues piloting and testing its methodology, the answers to some of these questions may come into focus. Others will continue to befuddle experts. At the very least, PRIndex may yet launch a thousand PhD papers examining some of its more interesting results, sparking an evidence-based debate about how big the problem of property rights really is, and how we go about solving it.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter