We ask a lot from infrastructure these days.
It’s not enough to build infrastructure assets that produce electricity, provide safe drinking water, or facilitate transport. We also need it to be resilient to the damage caused by climate change and natural disasters. We want its benefits to reach everyone, including women, remote communities, and disadvantaged groups. It needs to be economically efficient and support sustainable development. Quality infrastructure also lies at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals—without it, we won’t achieve any of them.
We have a name for this—Quality Infrastructure Investment, or QII, a concept that evolved in Japan. The idea is to look beyond “grey” infrastructure to include other dimensions of quality, such as economic growth, efficiency, climate, resilience, inclusivity, and governance.
Because of urban sprawl, pollution, devastating earthquakes, economic shocks, and aging infrastructure, Japanese planners took a deeper look at the quality aspects of infrastructure.
Today, these are embodied in the six QII principles, which were endorsed by the G20 in 2019. These non-binding principles provide a strategic direction for infrastructure investment.
The principles look good on paper. But what do they look like in practice? How does one go about applying them in real-world situations? How do they maximize the economic, social, environmental, and development impact of infrastructure?
In 2021, the QII Partnership and the Tokyo Development Learning Center developed case studies demonstrating how the QII Principles were applied in two Japanese cities, Toyoma and Fukuoka. This year, To illustrate:
Environmental considerations and resilience. According to QII Principle 3, the environmental impact of infrastructure projects should be taken into account at all stages of development. This means conducting thorough environmental analyses to identify ways to mitigate the negative impacts of infrastructure on ecosystems, biodiversity, and climate change. Principle 4 advocates for resilience against natural disasters, which can be exacerbated by climate change, as well as human-made risks such as cyber-attacks, which have increased significantly in recent years. The case study on urban development in Dar es Salaam demonstrates both principles.
- Inclusivity. QII Principle 5 advocates for access to infrastructure services for all groups, allowing everyone to participate economically and socially in a respectful, safe, and healthy environment. Women, indigenous peoples, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, and other disadvantaged groups should benefit equally from infrastructure investment. For example, public transport is often the only way for girls and women to get to work, school, or obtain healthcare services in developing countries. However, safety can be a significant concern. Experience from several parts of the world suggests the most effective way to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) in public transport is through a holistic approach using technology, effective response protocols, and awareness-raising, as illustrated in the Mexico City case study.
- Governance. QII Principle 6 highlights the importance of good infrastructure governance to ensure that appropriate and transparent decisions are made, particularly when applying the life-cycle cost approach and balancing the short-term and long-term outcomes of infrastructure projects. Governments must have the resources and capacity to oversee infrastructure projects properly. This often requires improvements to institutions and regulations. Good governance also reduces the risks of corruption and fosters community support. The case studies for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Jordan illustrate the role of good governance in quality infrastructure investment.
- Improving economic efficiency of infrastructure assets. QII Principle 2 advocates for the life-cycle cost (LCC) approach in infrastructure investment. It considers the total costs and benefits of the investment, as well as associated risks, over the lifetime of infrastructure assets. For example, governments should factor in the maintenance costs of infrastructure assets in addition to upfront design and construction costs. The Paraguay case study illustrates the LCC approach in the electricity sector.
- Maximizing the positive impact of infrastructure. QII Principle 1 calls for maximizing the positive impact of infrastructure, emphasizing its role in achieving sustainable growth and development. Infrastructure is essential for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, most of which cannot be achieved without power, water, or transportation. The positive impacts of infrastructure can be maximized when infrastructure investments are optimized—for example, by increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and increasing reliability—to deliver green, resilient, and inclusive development outcomes. The cases in Turkey, the Lao PDR, and Senegal illustrate this principle on the ground.
Urban infrastructure in Japan: Lessons from infrastructure quality investment principles
Quality Infrastructure Investment: Ensuring a lasting recovery
Building back better: Quality Infrastructure Investment MOOC
Why is the “quality” of infrastructure investment essential for building back better?