Urban Land Policy in El Salvador

Mario Lungo Ucles, Septiembre 1, 1997

Within the framework of economic restructuring, privatization and globalization, the issue of urban land and conflicts over its use is a top priority for El Salvador. Numerous factors contribute to the critical status of land management in the country:

  • The small geographical size of the country and its large and growing number of inhabitants.
  • The extraordinary concentration of rural land ownership in a few hands. This historical trend has been the source of a peasant uprising (1932), a civil war (1981-1992) and two important agricultural reforms (1980 and 1992), the latter leading to the Program for Transfer of Land supervised by the United Nations for ex-combatants and those affected by the civil war.
  • A weak legal and fiscal system that has favored eviction and the generation of numerous conflicts; for example, a land tax does not exist.
  • A serious process of degradation of the environment that introduces strong conditions and restrictions to the functioning of the land markets.
  • An accentuated process of internal migration that has concentrated a third of the population in the metropolitan region of El Salvador.
  • The large number of El Salvadoran migrants in the United States who transfer a major source of capital to their native country. This influx of cash through largely informal transactions has accelerated a booming property market.

The Lincoln Institute is working with the Salvadoran Program for Development and Environmental Research (PRISMA) to present a series of seminars for high-level municipal and national government officials, private development agents and representatives of non-governmental organizations. Last spring the two groups cosponsored a course on the functioning of the urban land markets and this fall will follow up with a course on “Regulatory Instruments for the Use of Urban Land.”

This program addresses the urgent need to create economic and regulatory instruments to promote strategic urban land management, contribute to the ongoing process of democratization and support sustainable development. The course is particularly timely because El Salvador is in the process of establishing a Ministry of the Environment and drafting legislation to address issues of territorial organization.

Mario Lungo Ucles is a researcher affiliated with PRISMA, the Salvadoran Program for Development and Environmental Research, in San Salvador.