The Buzz on the Street: Can institutional investors really close the infrastructure gap?
Once again, infrastructure is a hot topic. Not since the first waves of energy, water and transport privatizations in the early 1990s has infrastructure been a central topic in the daily discourse of the media, of the development community, of economists and financiers. Now, governments are crying for more of it, new development institutions are being built around it and even the IMF is asserting its central role in economic growth.
Not only has infrastructure re-emerged as a popular, nearly consensus solution to the economic and societal woes of developing countries and industrialized nations alike, but the font of the resources needed to fill the infrastructure financing gap has also been identified. Suddenly, it is impossible to walk through London, Washington, Paris or Singapore without bumping into a conference on institutional investors in infrastructure. The G20 has discovered the link along with their business counterparts at the B20. So too has the World Economic Forum, the OECD, the UN and the international financial institutions. Match the long-term liabilities of pensions and insurance plans with long-term assets, the mantra goes, and the infamous infrastructure gap will close. Win-win.
If only life were so easy.
The Buzz on the Street: Can institutional investors really close the infrastructure gap?
Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum’s 10th Global Risk Report ranked water crises as the top global risk in terms of impact, more than the spread of infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction or interstate conflict. With such global implications, we face a considerable challenge to develop the appropriate response. But we have also long grappled with a simple truth: water management is a complex web of local situations and issues, dictated by hydro-climatic conditions, spatial and demographic patterns, complex political economy dynamics, and technical considerations.
One increasingly pressing issue is the widening gap between the supply of water resources and the demand for water services in rapidly growing urban areas. This is exacerbated by dwindling resources in the face of climate vulnerability, and a legacy of poor governance and wasteful uses. This gap is most extreme in arid areas, which have few contingency options, and are left with few, if any, fallback options in case of further strain on the system.
Groundwater stored in the earth’s crust underpins all our lives – the ultimate source of freshwater for billions has become victim of over-extraction and the ultimate sink for pollutants.
For too long, not enough has been done to regulate the use of this precious, on-demand resource and manage disposal of waste. If rates of groundwater depletion have tripled in the past 3 decades, then the rate at which pollutants have accumulated in shallow aquifers can only have equaled or exceeded that rate.
The lack of care given to groundwater is placing a huge tax on the poor who have no access to clean piped water supply and depend on groundwater for their health and livelihoods. Self-supply, through the use of wells, from polluted aquifers in urban and rural areas is widespread, but un-reported. The impacts are all too apparent in the densely populated urban slums and rural communities that often live just centimeters above polluted soil and rock. Out-migration of poor farmers who are no longer able to access deepening groundwater tables has been a feature in arid and semi-arid regions, but intensive agriculture is also leaving behind a legacy of nitrates and pesticides which imprint aquifers for decades.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The surprising benefits of autocratic elections
After a bitterly contested election campaign and several controversial postponements, Muhammadu Buhari engineered an upset of Nigeria’s incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, the country’s first-ever case of electoral turnover. Legislative elections will follow on April 11, while two other African countries, Sudan and Togo, are also scheduled to hold elections over the next two weeks. Besides the coincidence in electoral timing, these countries share another surprising link—all three are generally recognized as autocracies. The marriage of autocracy with contested elections is, in fact, the norm nowadays. All but five autocracies have held a national election since 2000, with about three in four allowing multiparty competition. What makes these regimes autocratic is that the elections fail to meet democratic standards, typically with state power being used to favor the ruling party.
Cellphones for Women in Developing Nations Aid Ascent From Poverty
New York Times
Here is what life is like for a woman with no bank account in a developing country. She keeps her savings hidden — in pots, under mattresses, in fields. She constantly worries about thieves. She may even worry about her husband taking cash she has budgeted for their children’s needs. Sending money to a family member in another village is risky and can take days. Obtaining a loan in an emergency is often impossible. An unexpected expense can mean she has to pull a child out of school or sell a cow the family relies on for income. Or, worse, it can mean she must give birth at home without medical assistance because she doesn’t have the money for a ride to a clinic. In ways big and small, life without access to financial services is more difficult, expensive and dangerous. It constrains a woman’s ability to plan for her family’s future. At the community level, it traps households in cycles of poverty. More broadly, it limits the economic growth potential of developing countries.
In 2013, investment commitments to infrastructure projects with private participation declined by 24 percent from the previous year. It should be welcome news that the first half of 2014 (H1) data – just released from the World Bank Group’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, covering energy, water and sanitation and transport – shows a 23 percent increase compared to the first half of 2013, with total investments reaching US$51.2 billion.
A closer look shows, however, that this growth is largely due to commitments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and more specifically in Brazil. In fact, without Brazil, total private infrastructure investment falls to $21.9 billion – 32 percent lower than the first half of 2013. During H1, Brazil dominated the investment landscape, commanding $29.2 billion, or 57 percent of the global total.
Four out of six regions reported declining investment levels: East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Fewer projects precipitated the decrease in many cases. Specifically, India has experienced rapidly falling investment, with only $3.6 billion in H1, compared to a peak of $23.8 billion in H1 of 2012. That amount was still enough to keep India in the top five countries for private infrastructure investment. In order of significance, those countries are: Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, India, and China.
Sector investments were paced by transport and energy, which together accounted for nearly all private infrastructure projects that were collected in this update. The energy sector captured high investment levels primarily due to renewable energy projects, which totaled 59 percent of overall energy investments, and it is poised to continue growth due to its increasing role in global energy generation.
The energy sector also had the biggest number of new projects (70), followed by transport (28), then water and sewerage (12). However, transport claimed the greatest overall investment, at $36 billion, or 71 percent of the global total.
While we need to see what the data for the second half of 2014 show, what we have to date suggests that infrastructure gaps may continue to grow as the private sector contributes less. It also suggests that, in many emerging-market economies, there is much work to be done to bring projects to the market that will attract private investment and represent a good deal for the governments concerned.
March 22nd is World Water Day. We’ve already covered 7 things you may not know about water so here a 5 more facts showing the links between water and health, energy, the climate, agriculture and urbanization. But first:
This is every river and waterway in the contiguous United States
Image via Wired
Nelson Minar produced this incredible map using data from the USGS National Hydrography Dataset. It includes some waterways that are dry most of the year but still have defined creek beds, and like veins running through the human body it shows how fundamental water is to the country’s ecosystem.
The Middle East and North Africa is home to 6% of the world’s population and less than 2% of the world’s renewable water supply. In fact, it is the world’s driest region with 12 of the world’s most water scarce countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Libya, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Each year on March 22 we mark World Water Day. It is an opportunity to keep the urgent water issues – from lack of sanitation to transboundary water to climate change -- top of my mind for practitioners, decision makers and the global public. In the coming days we will post here updates and stories from the field, as well as links to some of our partners’ content. But, more importantly, this is an opportunity to hear from you, too.