Infrastructure: think climate-resistant

Workers erect scaffolding at a construction site of a metro rail station in Kolkata. REUTERS

The social and economic benefits of spending on infrastructure have been known and have often been detailed, especially in the context of development of low and middle income countries. This is relevant not only when roads, railways or power lines have to be built to boost economic growth but when measures have to be taken to prevent or reduce the impact of natural disasters or when clean water has to be provided to people. The annual losses due to damage and loss of infrastructure in poorer countries run into hundreds of billions of dollars, according to studies. Disasters like floods, climate-related calamities and collapses of roads and buildings are common in these countries and these can be prevented or their impact can be minimised if infrastructure with the resilience to withstand them is put in place. This is the theme of a recent report prepared by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, and it should receive better attention in policy-making. 

The report says that poor countries, including India, can save up to $ 4.2 trillion by increasing investment in infrastructure assets by 3 percentage points. It has also estimated that $1 spent on development of climate resistant infrastructure in poor countries would give a return of $4. These observations, based on research and studies of the impact of infrastructure spending over a period, are very relevant when policies and measures to deal with natural disasters are formulated. The impact of the recent floods in Mumbai, for example, would have been much less if flood-resistant infrastructure had been built in the city. All such disasters affect the poor and marginalised sections of people most, and so there is a special need to give priority to the steps to deal with them. 

What the report terms as resilient infrastructure is not just about structures to be built or services to be offered. It says it is more about facilities to be put in place to increase the well being and quality of life of people. Though much investment is made on roads, power projects, water supply etc, they are often inadequate and the quality does not measure up to the requirement. The point that has been made is that infrastructure should be more oriented to welfare, should be stronger and better and less prone to disruption and malfunctioning. It puts infrastructure at the heart of lives and livelihoods, and says that governments should spend better rather than just spend more. It is a case for investment in infrastructure which will offer a more secure, inclusive and prosperous future in the poorer areas of the world

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