Land matters: can better governance and management of scarcity prevent a looming crisis in the Middle East and North Africa?

Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, land is a scarce and valuable resource. The projected increase in land demand due to demographic trends, coupled with decreasing land supply due to climatic and governance factors, indicate a looming crisis happening at a time when the region is also facing dramatic social and political transformation. Reserves for land cultivation are almost exhausted, while total built-up area will need to expand to accommodate high demographic growth. Yet, land remains inefficiently, inequitably, and unsustainably used. There are strong barriers to land access for both firms and individuals. Firms resort to political connections to access land, resulting in land misallocation. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to fear losing their property in the case of spousal death or divorce, and their rights are not sufficiently supported by institutions and gender-imbalanced social norms. Refugees also face difficulties in accessing land; conflict in the region is causing the displacement of millions of people who lack necessary housing, land, and property rights. This report identifies and analyzes the economic, environmental, and social challenges associated with land in MENA countries, shedding light on policy options to address them. It focuses on two main constraints—scarcity of land and weak land governance—and how they affect land use and access, the resulting inefficiencies and inequities, and associated economic and social costs. It highlights the need for MENA countries to think about land more holistically and to reassess the strategic trade-offs involving land, while minimizing land distortions and serving economic development. It is also an attempt to fill major data gaps and promote a culture of open data, transparency, and inclusive dialogue on land. These efforts are important steps that will contribute to renewing the social contract, accompany economic and digital transformation, and facilitate recovery and reconstruction in the region.