What is it?
Many of the things we take for granted, such as listening to the radio, surfing the Web, riding the subway, and drinking clean water stem from good, functioning infrastructures. Life would be very different, and probably quite uncomfortable, without these things.
But infrastructure is important for more than just daily comforts. It plays a key role in reducing poverty. It increases productivity and improves the quality of life for a community. Roads transport people to markets, schools, and health care facilities. Safe water is essential for life and health. Reliable electricity saves businesses and consumers from investing in expensive back-up systems or more costly alternatives, and spares rural women and children from the laborious task of collecting firewood. Widely available and affordable telecommunications and transportation services can generate employment and advance economic growth.
Here are just a few examples of the impact of infrastructure development on a community:
- In India, roads alone account for 7% of the growth in total output of the rural areas.
- In Costa Rica, a rural electrification project increased the number of major businesses from 15 to 86.
- A rural road project in Morocco not only increased agricultural production, but also tripled the enrollment of girls in primary schools. And the use of health care facilities nearly doubled.
Why should I care?
Not everyone is benefiting
In recent years, there have been huge improvements in infrastructure around the world. Today, we are better connected than ever, with more roads, better transport systems, fast Internet connections, and incredible mobile phone technology. For many of us, electricity and safe drinking water are not luxuries, but facts of life.
But these developments have not included everyone. Far too many people around the world still live without strong infrastructures. This is a major obstacle to reducing poverty, and often poses serious health risks:
- Some 2 billion people have no access to electricity at all.
- 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water, roughly one-sixth of the world's population. And 2.4 billion, or 40%, of the world's people lack access to adequate sanitation services.
- Water and sanitation-related illnesses, including diarrheal diseases, kill 1.6 million children every year.
- High-income economies on average use 10 times as much energy (a finite resource) per capita as low-income economies.
While strong infrastructure contributes tremendously to the quality of life, it is important that development is environmentally sustainable, otherwise the cost can be high. Building roads, cities and transport systems has, unfortunately, wreaked havoc on our environment. Energy emissions have increased, as have urban congestion, air pollution, and traffic congestion.
What is the international community doing?
In the last decade, infrastructure investment in developing countries fell significantly. Governments in the developing world are investing too little in infrastructure, and the private sector has not been able to fill the gap, although it continues to be a very important contributor to global infrastructure development. In fact, in developing countries, the private sector accounts for approximately 20% of total annual infrastructure investment.
In response to the global economic crisis, the World Bank Group launched the Infrastructure Recovery and Assets (INFRA) platform in April 2009. It laid the groundwork for future growth and poverty reduction through scaled-up infrastructure lending targets, agreed to and harmonized among a wide range of donor agencies and international financial institutions. This complemented the Bank Group’s Sustainable Infrastructure Action Plan FY2009-FY2011, a road map for action to address the challenges of globalization, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
International development organizations can have a stronger impact when working together, and there are several examples of such collaborations among the Bank, regional development banks, donors and other institutions such as the European Union. This has been especially true with regional infrastructure projects, which require close collaboration given their complexity and scale.
What can I do?
Learn the facts. Write about these issues for your local youth newspaper, and encourage other young people to educate themselves about these topics.
Conserve water and energy. In many parts of the world, both are precious commodities, and you can help by avoiding overuse and wastage.
For more information: Infrastructure