Monday, October 15, 2007

Improve infrastructure to Bridge Rural-Urban divide

The lack of basic infrastructure plays a significant part in the persistence of poverty. Poor people need better connections to schools, health care, markets, essential services and each other. Almost all of the Millennium Development Goals depend on providing infrastructure: it is essential to replicate the success of community-based infrastructure projects, whilst learning from past mistakes.
A report from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the United Nations Development Programme examines small-scale infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, Senegal, Thailand and Zambia. It connects these projects to broader issues of poverty, human security and governance.
Infrastructure helps reduce human poverty by directly improving access to health and educational services, providing people with cleaner energy and pro­tecting them against natural disasters. Reducing risk improves human security, for example avoiding droughts and flooding through effective water management. Infrastructure also enhances agricultural productivity, reduces transportation costs and generates more jobs and income.
Small-scale, community-based infrastructure projects can have significant impacts if local communities feel a sense of ownership. Local successes with infrastructure development demonstrate that decentralisation can establish competent local governments. Surrounding communities will feel more confident in designing and maintaining community-based infrastructure. As a result, good governance promotes effective infrastructure development, and infrastructure improvements support better governance.
The case studies show how infrastructure projects directly contribute to incomes, create employment and reduce poverty. The report highlights many initiatives that could be replicated elsewhere, including:
a project to build portable steel bridges in Bangladesh, which has provided women with safer and cheaper access to markets, health, education, employment and law enforcement servicesa ‘safe water’ project in Zambia, which has reduced the incidence of diarrhoea and saved time on water collection, whilst improving women’s safetyan integrated development project in Senegal, which has provided wells and health posts whilst training women as health workers and veterinary assistants, recognising their key roles in natural resource managementefforts in Thailand to make shrimp fishing more environmentally sustainable whilst guaranteeing farmers access to good quality irrigation water.If small-scale infrastructure services are to be pro-poor, they must be available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and adaptable. Donors must work together to assess probable impacts on poverty reduction when choosing which projects to support. They should give priority to small-scale infrastructure initiatives that have complementary components or multiple objectives.
Other key lessons include:
Gender issues are crucial: women should not just benefit from projects, but play an active role in designing, implementing and managing projects.State regulation should be minimal, except in the case of systems such as power transmission grids, which must remain as monopolies.Finance providers need to encourage the use of competitively selected local private sector suppliers, contractors and operators. This helps to ensure that appropriate technologies and materials are used, making local maintenance possible.Sustainability cannot be achieved without building local capacity and establishing ways to find sufficient funding for operation and maintenance. Training local people to manage and maintain infrastructure projects improves performance and reduces vandalism.