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Protecting land rights using Wikipedia-style maps

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Samrang Pring/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A girl cries during a protest in front of the ministry of justice in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May 2012. Residents had gathered to demand the release of 15 land protesters, who were jailed over a land dispute with a Chinese firm after they clashed with police. Crowd-sourced or do-it-yourself land surveying could help small landowners prove their ownership.

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Imagine whipping out your smartphone, walking the boundaries of your property, and pressing “Send” to upload a map of your land to a common databank. You also could attach a photo of a legal contract proving your tenancy or ownership.

Building land inventories, Wikipedia-style, would be a cheap and easy way for poor, rural communities to compile a record of property rights and land usage patterns. It also could reduce corruption and help lessen illegal land grabs, said companies promoting the technologies and advocates of crowdsourcing at a World Bank conference on Land and Poverty in April.

“Governments are so dysfunctional in many part of the world, this lets communities lay down a record of their land rights, and resolve disputes amongst themselves,” said Brent Jones, marketing director at ESRI, a mapping company that launched a free mobile application in April.

 
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