The Habitat II Conference on Human Settlements (Istanbul 1996) singled out inadequate financial resources as one of the most serious problems affecting cities in developing countries. Fifteen years later, this still applies to most fast-growing cities in the developing world – in particular, urban centres in conflict and post-conflict situations.
Many urban local authorities also lack accurate, complete, and up-to-date information on housing, land, and property, which is crucial for urban planning, service delivery, the development and control of urban infrastructure, and the regulation and oversight of building construction. Existing land records are often incomplete and outdated. Land transactions are carried out privately and are often not registered with the local authority. Due to the weak planning and development systems, uncontrolled urban sprawl and illegal structures are common.
The UN-HABITAT Somalia Programme has developed an innovative approach that combines spatial urban property information with improved revenue systems. Over the past five years, the programme has been able to set up efficient tax collection systems – based on property taxation – in Somali cities where existing information on land and urban properties was at best incomplete, institutional arrangements were weak, and the capacities of local professionals needed to be built.
After successful interventions of this kind in three cities in Somaliland, UN-HABITAT recently started to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) for urban properties in the town of Garowe in Puntland. The local authority of Garowe currently relies on outdated and incomplete paper-based land records; only a small portion of the total number of properties in the municipality are formally registered and included in the property tax roll.
The property survey for the Garowe GIS project started on 20 November 2010 and was completed in February 2011. This exercise captured complete spatial information on land and building characteristics in a digital format.
The property survey consisted of four main steps:
- Acquisition of a geo-referenced, high-resolution satellite image for Garowe (Quickbird)
- On-screen digitizing of the image to create a map that shows all existing buildings and other features such as main roads, rivers, the airport, etc.
- Field verification of the spatial database and the collection of attribute data in digital format
- Integration of attribute data and spatial information to form the geo-database
The outcome of the property survey will be the creation of a database that combines geo-referenced spatial data and property attributes.
The variables for the property database include the following:
- Exact location (coordinates derived from the geo-referenced image)
- Physical characteristics of the property (dimensions, use, building materials, access to services, etc.)
- Main occupant (could be different from owner)
- Number of residents living in the building
The database entries are hyperlinked to a digital ground photograph of each property. With the assistance of these pictures, municipal staff can verify the database, communicate with the owners or occupants of the properties, and match the bills to the correct buildings. The database will then be used to print out the complete set of annual property tax bills, which are delivered to the individual households.
Upon seeing the photographs of their building, most owners or occupants feel assured that the received tax bill truly applies to their property, thus increasing their willingness to pay!
The spatial database will also be used for the delineation of administrative boundaries, thematic mapping, urban planning, and improved service delivery. The enhanced municipal revenues obtained through the new property taxation systems will enable the local government to address service gaps and public infrastructure priorities.