Conversation may be an art, but the best conversations spur action, too – and the upcoming Global Infrastructure Forum 2016 will focus on strengthening and formalizing collaboration among multilateral development banks (MDBs) to improve infrastructure delivery around the world. This unprecedented daylong gathering in Washington, DC brings together the leaders of the MDBs, as well as development partners and representatives of the G20, G-24, and G-77 and the United Nations, with the aim of enhancing multilateral collaborative mechanisms to improve infrastructure delivery globally.
Back in 2000, a research assistant and I received a request from a multilateral development bank that wanted a model for how much money was needed for them to invest in Latin America. I put together a very simple model – it was actually more of a benchmarking exercise – asking what kind of infrastructure in roads, energy, and water/sanitation that countries had at that time, based on income, economic structure, and urbanization. Then I created projections in terms of income and urbanization. I thought, “Well, assuming countries grow this way and follow the patterns of the past, it’s quite easy to deduce an investment pattern and an investment amount.” I called this final figure the “infrastructure gap.” Little did I expect it, but the term caught on and a subset of literature of infrastructure investment was born. We’re still talking about the infrastructure gap today, and it is a focus of the upcoming Global Infrastructure Forum 2016.
But a lot has changed in 16 years, and it’s time to re-cast our conversation about the infrastructure gap. In fact, it’s imperative to change the conversation if we want to achieve our goals. And the Forum is the right place to start.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region of extremes. It has the highest unemployment rate in the developing world, with the rate for women and young people double the average. MENA economies are among the least diversified, with the Herfindahl index—a measure of the concentration of exports in a few commodities—ranging between 0.6 and 1 for most countries. The region had the highest number of electricity cuts per month. The ratio of public- to private-sector workers is the highest in the world. While, until recently, the region had been averaging 4-5 percent GDP growth, that average masked a highly volatile growth path.
On a spring morning in 2016, Mrs. Dinh Thi Son of the Thai ethnic minority group brought her two month old baby to the Trung Son Hydropower Project construction site for medical services. Why go to a construction site? Because it has a health center that’s fully equipped with medical devices, well stocked with medicines, an ambulance, and doctors and nurses who provide healthcare services 24/7 for workers and local people alike.
We already see a large number of cities taking the lead in sustainability through innovative financing mechanisms, technological advances, policy and regulatory reforms, efficient use of land and transport, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and reduction of GHG emissions.
What is needed now for scaling this up is systematic knowledge exchange and learning among cities. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool once contextualized and adapted to the particular socio-economic and political context. Iterative learning with feedback loops can help in finding transformative solutions.
Resource rich nations face unique challenges when attempting to move from low to high value added activities.
Resource sectors (such as mining and oil) tend to be highly capital intensive and offer limited employment opportunities to accommodate workers exiting from other sectors with lower average productivity, such as agriculture and informal services.
Based on the premise that greener cities are the key to a more sustainable future, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility launched the new Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) earlier this month in Singapore. The new platform will help mobilize funding for urban sustainability programs, while also facilitating knowledge exchange between cities.
Thanks to this innovative approach that closely connects finance to knowledge, the GPSC will be uniquely positioned to make cities the driving force of sustainable development.