Informal settlements in Fiji: Addressing land tenure challenges through engineering capacity building  


  • Associate Professor Mohsen Kalantari, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW Sydney  
  • Ms Badal Pokharel, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, UNSW Sydney  
  • Dr Sarath Mataraarachchi, School of Built Environment, Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture, UNSW Sydney  
  • Professor Digby Race, Head of Land Management and Development, School of Business and Management, The University of the South Pacific (USP) 
  • Dr Joeli Varo, Assitant Lecturer – Land Management and Development, School of Business and Management, The University of the South Pacific (USP) 
  • Mr Stamatis Kotousaz, The World Bank Group  


This project was part of the Australian Human Rights Institute’s 2023 joint seed funding round with UNSW Engineering, receiving $25,000. 


This project aims to identify the land administrations challenges of Fiji in the context of informal settlements in its urbanised area. The project achieves this aim by first identifying and contextualising current land administration issues in informal settlements, including geospatial information gaps such as land boundaries, flood maps, and infrastructure and service maps, that hamper the administration of informal settlements. We will also study complex and varied land tenure arrangements to understand the constraints in the current tenure system that contribute to informal settlements. The project then identifies the capacity-building requirements in the settlements to empower their communities to contribute to addressing the geospatial information gaps in the short and long term. The innovation of this research lies in introducing an engineering capacity-building approach to address the legal challenges of land tenure in informal settlements. The approach helps address the informal settlement issues in the short term and help inform longer-term solutions such as land tenure reform. 

Informal settlements increasingly occupy a substantial amount of land across all urban areas in Fiji, creating significant social, environmental and economic challenges. There are three categories of land ownership in Fiji: state land managed by the Department of Lands and Survey; iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) lands managed by iTaukei Lands Trust Board; and individually held private land. 

The administration of informal settlements is a major challenge for Fiji. These settlements are often located in peri-urban areas or just beyond the municipal boundary, placing them beyond the jurisdiction of local governments. Similarly, the Local Government Act exempts iTaukei villages from municipal council regulations. This means that such villages are not permitted to access urban services. In both cases, urban services are nonetheless tapped. Basic services are often ‘stolen’ in informal settlements – pirated water and electricity connections are common. And in iTaukei villages, pirated connections do occur, but so do formal arrangements with the council under which, for example, the council delivers solid waste management services to the village in return for a small fee. Besides the administration issues, these settlements are extremely vulnerable to climate change due to poor housing quality, lack of infrastructure and services, and being in areas exposed to environmental hazards.