01/09/2014 02:02 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2014

Rebuilding in Port-au-Prince After Four Years

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and other areas of Haiti, there are many reasons to commend the country for its rebuilding efforts -- but not all are visible to the naked eye.

The now thriving Santo neighborhood of Léogâne, with 300 homes that Habitat for Humanity volunteers helped community members build in 2011 and 2012, exemplifies the structural and societal rebuilding taking place on this small island nation. The transformation of the Simon-Pelé neighborhood, just southeast of Cité Soleil, from one of the most troubled slums in the Western Hemisphere into a cohesive community with several paved roads, street lighting, safe drinking water and other government services, is noteworthy as well.

Amid the reconstruction, what you might not think about as you walk among thriving community gardens and visit new marketplaces is the very thing you're walking on: land. Land tenure is a critical component of housing and resettlement recovery. Lack of clarity around land rights poses a major barrier to building -- or rebuilding -- a country. These barriers impede resource-poor families and resource-rich private investors alike.

Around the world, lack of access to land often lies at the heart of poverty housing, depriving the poor of the basic physical, economic and psychological security of adequate shelter. Many of the 1.6 billion people in need of adequate housing around the world struggle on a daily basis with tenure security and fear of eviction, and an even greater number lack proper documentation for the land on which they live.

For potential investors, a recent report from the U.S. Agency for International Development demonstrates the links between secure land tenure and increased investment in land and housing, credit availability, increased land values and agricultural productivity. Whether the goal is to create a simple, adequate shelter or to build a major center of commerce, a person is more likely to build if he or she can be certain that the land beneath that building will not be taken away.

Which brings me back to the less visible progress that is underway. Before the earthquake, Haiti's laws around land ownership lacked the clarity and transparency required for stable development. In 2011, Habitat for Humanity, with support from the Haitian, French, American and Canadian governments, helped establish the Haiti Property Law Working Group, which is composed of legal experts, donor agencies, businesses and other NGOs. The working group has created a how-to manual (and related training materials) to facilitate the sale of private property and is developing a second manual to discern security of tenure on government and third-party land. The manuals aim to foster efficiency and equity in access to land and, in turn, reduce poverty by promoting resilience and sustainable economic growth. This undertaking, like Habitat's programming in Bolivia, Cambodia, Malawi, Macedonia, Lesotho and Sri Lanka, supports stable land development, which, in turn, promotes economic development for the country as a whole.

Since 2011, the working group, consisting of more than 100 stakeholders, has helped to address these long-standing land issues in Haiti by improving the transparency of the land rights system. Later this year, with the support of the Haitian government, the second manual on securing land rights will be published, addressing ownership, leasehold, rent-to-own and other rights on public and private land. The manuals developed by the working group will facilitate private investments to create jobs, tenure security for informal settlements, the resettlement of camp dwellers, and the use of housing and land as collateral for housing microfinance.

Habitat commends the Haitian government, the Haitian people and their many partners for all they have done to rebuild. With fellow members of the Haiti Property Law Working Group, we look forward to another year of growth for the resilient and inspiring country of Haiti.