Vision & Feasibility Master Plan in support of the Higher Ground Initiative (Phases 1 and 2)

Project details





Project Timeframe

September 2021 - December 2023

Key Services

Governance, Policy & Institutional Strengthening

Gender, Community & Inclusion

Land Administration

The Republic of Nauru is facing the impacts of climate change, demonstrated by increasingly long dry spells, ongoing coastal erosion, and significant risk of sea level rise. These impacts, compounded by the irreversible effects of phosphate mining, risk the future sustainability, sovereignty and safety of Nauru’s citizens. In addition, with most of the population living around the island’s coastal fringe (‘Bottomside’), the country is facing a significant housing challenge. As one of the most densely populated islands in the Pacific, overcrowded living conditions and poor-quality housing predominates. To respond to these challenges – which are compounded by food and economic insecurity - Nauru must fully adapt, with a strategic plan for the relocation of its people, its assets, and its communities to higher ground.

In recognizing this need, the Higher Ground Initiative (HGI) has been established. HGI seeks a managed migration of people and infrastructure to the Island’s higher elevation inland, commonly known as ‘Topside’. As a generational undertaking, critical to the long-term survival of Nauru, HGI seeks to mobilize the country around a collective national vision that fundamentally changes the development trajectory of the country for the better. HGI proposes to do this by (1) addressing its inherent vulnerability to climate change, (2) restoring balance between the economic development and protection of the natural environment, and (3) building a foundation for a healthier and more prosperous population in the future.

The HGI Phase I and II projects support the priorities of the Higher Ground Initiative (HGI). During Phase 1, the consortium developed a vision and feasibility master plan for the whole island, with a particular focus on one Government-owned site prioritized for rehabilitation – ‘Land Portion 230’. The LEI team component involved an analysis of the land tenure challenges facing the island including proposing land tenure reform options for the Government-owned site, as well as for the broader work around the island. This is important as the focus of the existing legal framework was primarily on enabling leases for mining access and infrastructure development and customary tenure practices have been weakened by Nauru’s colonial history. LEI was also tasked with identifying potential social safeguarding needs.

During Phase 2, the project undertakes a technical assessment of the next steps needed to proceed with the development of the HGI plans. The LEI team is providing options for allocation of housing for the Government-owned site, as well as broader tenure arrangements for other spaces on this site. Support has also been provided to the wider consortium around strategies for stakeholder engagement, given the significant consultation needs of HGI.

Key Project Services

The LEI team provides support and core technical assistance to the project under the themes of land tenure and social safeguarding.

In Phase 1, this consisted primarily of preliminary advice, scoping and awareness raising/sensitisation. LEI responded to a request by the Government of Nauru to provide guidance on land transfers and conveyancing, and on tenure options for pro-poor housing. LEI developed guidance addressing these areas, drawing on regional case studies, which was presented to key government stakeholders. Working closely with the wider team to integrate land tenure concerns with master planning and the built environment, LEI developed, delivered and presented the following reports in Phase 1:

  • Initial Assessment of Land Tenure and Land Administration in Nauru
  • Social Safeguards Background Paper
  • Land Tenure Options Working Paper
  • Improving Equitable Access to Housing in Nauru through Land Tenure Reform and Land Use Planning including five Pacific case studies addressing challenges including low-income housing access, absentee owners, land ownership fragmentation, land readjustment and building controls.

Throughout, LEI has been conscious to provide materials in a format that meets the requirements of the client: minimising technical language as appropriate, providing presentations and diagrammatic materials to portray key ideas, grounding ideas in local context and example situations, facilitating discussions and integrating ideas and inputs within broader deliverables.

In Phase 2 LEI’s support will focus on the options around land tenure and housing management on the Government-owned area of topside, where rehabilitation is due to conclude at the end of 2023. Land tenure options and housing management encompass questions of who will be granted rights to this rehabilitated site, what form those rights will take, and institutional requirements to manage the process sustainably and equitably. In-country travel will facilitate workshops with stakeholders and ensure that proposed options are grounded in the Nauruan socio-economic context and remain politically viable.

Given the Higher Ground Initiative vision for sustainable urban development – that, in the face of climate change, will likely see the vast majority of homes and critical infrastructure relocated away from vulnerable coastal locations, there is a need for the project to identify areas of social safeguarding concern from the outset. LEI’s social safeguarding adviser has undertaken an initial social safeguarding review and consultation with the client and project team members, to report on considerations for the development of master plan options.

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