The role of infrastructure policy and practice in combatting poverty

Infrastructure is a vital component of efforts to meet the most pressing global challenges of our time. Unless we can accelerate the delivery of good quality infrastructure and services, we seriously undermine achieving inclusive economic growth, improving livelihoods and lessening the effects of climate change.

Importantly, infrastructure delivery is also promoted within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is well noted in Goal 6, on water management; Goal 7, on access to energy; Goal 9, on the creation of strong, lasting infrastructure; and Goal 11, on cities. With the adoption of the SDGs, renewed emphasis on investing in public infrastructure has been demonstrated by institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other Multilateral Development Banks.

However, to meet the SDGs, it is estimated that an annual investment of $(US) 3.5 trillion is needed to deliver affordable and accessible infrastructure that benefits underserved and marginalised communities. The gap in Africa is proportionally greater with less than 50% of the total infrastructure financing raised. This is particularly acute in the energy sector, where still only 38% have access to electricity.

Addressing the infrastructure investment gap through better governance, promoting transparency, accountability and anti-corruption

There is growing recognition that the infrastructure ‘financing gap’ is widened through corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency. Recent research from the IMF has shown that up to a third of investment is estimated to be lost because of these issues, and in developing countries this rises to 50%. Thus, mobilising infrastructure investment and delivering global infrastructure needs should be focussed on as a governance challenge. Promoting better governance and improving infrastructure transparency, participation and accountability is proven to deliver value for money in the sector and ensure infrastructure is delivered that meets community needs.

Promoting social value, inclusion and workers’ rights

Better infrastructure delivery helps to improve the quality of social infrastructure (such as schools, hospitals, water and housing) that are needed to reduce poverty. It also allows the cost savings to be reinvested in essential infrastructure to help economies thrive (such as roads, ports, airports). At the same time the process of building the infrastructure represents an opportunity to directly promote social and gender inclusion and offer decent jobs and work environments. This could be anything from ensuring safe working conditions for construction workers to ensuring females, youth and other unrepresented groups are consulted with in the design and planning stages of infrastructure projects. Read more.

Building engineering capacity

The engineering sector has an important role to play in addressing poverty and climate change. However, in low- and middle-income countries there is often a shortage of local capacity in the engineering sector. Our experience has also shown that whilst there are many engineering students, a gap exists in the theoretical and practical experience they have to then break into the sector, resulting in a sectoral shortfall. To build a robust sector and ensure it can help meet these challenges effectively, investing in engineering education and building capacity has become increasingly important. Read more.

The need for innovative and resilient infrastructure

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and developing resilient infrastructure that can withstand and mitigate the impact of natural hazards and extreme weather, flash floods and droughts will be key to tackle it. It will affect all but often the poorer and more disadvantaged people suffer the most.

In addition, the climate and environmental impact during construction must be minimised, with estimates of building and construction contributing to 39% of global emissions. Ensuring green and environmentally sound methods in construction will be key to reducing this contribution. Read more.