“If there is one thing that could really help my business, it would be reliable power supply,” said David, a small business owner in Lagos, on my recent trip to Nigeria.
“I agree. If only …,” echoed another.
And not without reason.
, the region with the second-lowest access rate. If we were to measure access to “reliable” electricity, then those numbers would be even more dismal.
Worryingly, the rate of access has been increasing at a mere 5 percentage points every decade, against population growth of 29 percent. If something is not done to dramatically change this trend, Africa will not see universal access to electricity in the 21st century. This is a seriously worrying prospect as the world races toward a 2030 deadline of universal access to electricity.
The target of achieving universal access by 2030 by the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative and the billions of dollars committed by the U.S. government’s Power Africa plan underline the urgency of the situation. As a reminder,
So, are Africa’s utilities financially equipped to respond to this call?
Can a sustainable water sector be developed simultaneously with a country’s growth? Can the water sector continue to expand and achieve comprehensive coverage and financial sustainability goals to become a recognized global model for water sector management and performance? Can a country without a single sewer line in 1958 have 90 percent of its wastewater treated by 2012?
The answer is yes! The example is Korea.
Yet Africa’s infrastructure networks lag increasingly behind those of other developing countries in providing telecom, electricity, and water supply and sanitation services. Two-thirds of the population in the region lacks access to electricity and five out of six people don't have access to piped water. The people and industries that do have services pay twice as much as those outside Africa, further reducing regional competitiveness and growth. As cities continue to flood with migrants looking for better economic opportunities, power and water utilities are being challenged to improve the services offered to existing and new users. Given scarce resources and competing development priorities, it is essential to establish ways of using resources (and knowledge!) more effectively.
If you are working on an urban water project, what information do you need? You likely want to know what your project’s water utility knows. How else can you start talking to each other to have a productive discussion, using the same language and standards?
The cool thing about working in infrastructure is everyone knows your business.
We’ve all paid bills, lost power during storms, and worried about the quality of the water we’re about to drink. We’ve all been on a dead phone line sputtering, “Hello? Hello?” having just confessed, “I love you,” to a disconnected piece of plastic.
And if we in the professional world care about these basic services that are so fundamental to our lives, we know their reliable and affordable delivery is even more crucial for the poor. When a long wait for a new phone connection means no link to the outside world, no power means no study, and tainted water means sick children, then utility services are the difference between stagnation and growth, poverty and opportunity.
Everyone knows when services work and when they don’t. But infrastructure economists have long struggled to understand why some utilities work well and others don’t. Is there a package of reforms that will get us more connections, higher levels of efficiency, better quality service and cheaper rates?
Looking at the financial status of your water utility, would you classify it as a struggling service provider, a developing utility, or a performing service provider? And then, once you decide where it falls on the financial sustainability ladder, what are the best actions to move it up?
Ensuring that backbone telecommunications networks are widely accessible, of good quality, and delivered efficiently and competitively is critical to boosting productivity and international competitiveness in the MENA region. They are major determinants of production costs and speeding up affordable access to broadband Internet will ultimately result in higher employment, growth, and improved living standards.
The next time you're in a new city, maybe jet-lagged, try to wake-up early and take a walk: The earlier the better. Watch as the city wakes, the merchants restock their shelves and workers take away the waste. Street sweepers and garbage collectors take advantage of the quiet streets; people open offices and stores; the calm before the rush. Perhaps your hotel is near a market – check out how early the bakers and farmers start working. A few newspapers are still delivered before the sun rises.
While walking and watching the city wake, also look beneath your feet. There the pipes deliver water and gas; sewers take away wastewater. And if you’re in Europe most of the electricity is delivered through underground piping as well (strange how cities in the US and Canada, where hurricanes are common, have most power lines above ground, while Europe, with fewer storms but more concern for aesthetics, have most power lines buried).