• For the developing world to achieve sustainable infrastructure success, effective planning needs to be a foundational element.

file under: Asia/Pacific, Education, Government, Integrated Resources Management, Latin America, Middle East/Africa, Program Management, Sustainability

ROCKS: Sustainability Basics for the Developing World

Urban population growth and insufficient infrastructure continue to be dramatic in much of the developing world at a time when scientific knowledge, technological innovation and lessons learned about sustainable development advance. The developing world’s cities, therefore, are in a unique position to leverage this knowledge to meet the future needs of their citizens. Despite major cities in Africa, Latin America and Asia already committing to infrastructure development—including providing water and sanitation, building transportation networks, medical facilities, cellular telecommunications systems, shopping districts—effective planning for this infrastructure is often inconsistent or lacking.

Fragmented government entities, poor communication, remote and often inaccessible sites, lack of basic services and community involvement, and an inadequate or uninterested private sector stymie the developing world’s attempts to keep pace. One way to overcome these barriers is to develop and implement infrastructure master plans while employing basic tenets, or a foundation, of sustainability: ROCKS

Resources: To produce and sustain infrastructure, developing cities need adequate resources, such as equipment and funds, to ensure ongoing maintenance and repairs. Another necessary resource is an interested and effective private sector to collaborative with governments. Resources can take many forms, such as operating procedures and manuals needed to inform decisions.

Ownership: Key players needed to plan, build and sustain the infrastructure must accept ownership of their roles. They need to be held accountable to their responsibilities and have the authority, resources and capacity to do their jobs.

Connection: An understanding of how business and societal culture functions is critical before attempting to implement any significant changes. Building upon existing ideas and systems facilitates understanding and acceptance of new ideas.

Knowledge: Also critical is determining the institutional and human capacity and knowledge needed to plan, build and maintain infrastructure, including an understanding capacity gaps and ways to mitigate them. Implementing an assurance plan, monitoring performance against that plan and adjusting accordingly are essential for keeping the project on track.

Secondary systems: Governments should prepare for bumps in the road to success. They should have backup plans in place if intended plans fail or fall short.

Peter Macy, CDM Smith vice president, has more than 30 years of experience in all areas of water and sanitation, from rural hand-pumps to large-scale program management and P3 assignments. He manages Africa operations and is a thought leader in international development.