Ensuring disadvantaged communities have access to adequate infrastructure is a key goal of a new Hub tool, writes Morag Baird, Senior Manager, Leading Practices and Policy, GI Hub.
Infrastructure helps shape our society and environment and is essential to sustain economic growth. According to the IMF, a 1% increase in spending on well-planned and well-executed infrastructure can yield an increase in a country’s economic output of up to 2.6 per cent over four years.
Ensuring that growth is inclusive and that low-income and other underserved groups have access to the infrastructure service itself, such as electricity and clean water, and the related benefits such as jobs and increased income, can be challenging. At its best, infrastructure can be viewed as a vital tool to well-being, addressing inequity and increasing connectivity and inclusion both within and between communities. Conversely it may be at risk of bypassing the poor and exacerbating existing inequality.
A number of developed countries, even those experiencing GDP growth and falling unemployment, are currently experiencing a rise in populism expressing dissatisfaction in the status quo. In developing countries, addressing inequality and improving inclusion is a crucial area for delivering on poverty reduction while reducing the risk of conflict.
The GI Hub is launching a new initiative that responds to ongoing discussions at the G20 and in other fora on ‘quality infrastructure’ – where part of the definition of ‘quality’ infrastructure is that it should be ‘inclusive’. It also responds to the global goals set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and at a national level to the political priorities of sustaining inclusive economic growth.
The Hub will develop a new tool that provides guidance on leading practice for ensuring infrastructure is inclusive and addresses social inequity.
The scope of this initiative is to cover large-scale public infrastructure projects, at which substantial finance is directed with the expectation of transformational impacts. The initiative will specifically assess examples of projects which addressed issues of inclusion during planning, design, and implementation to help identify leading practices and lessons learned, and develop a practical reference tool.
For the purposes of this initiative the definition of inclusive infrastructure is expected encompass access to infrastructure services by low-income customers and other underserved groups (which depending on context may relate to gender, disability) and access to other benefits enabled by the infrastructure, such as job creation, access to markets and wider services.
Addressing issues of inclusion in the context of large infrastructure projects is challenging, particularly given the ‘public good’ aspects of such projects, their significant externalities, and the frequently monopolistic nature of large public infrastructure. These characteristics place demands on planning and project selection, regulation (such as relating to tariff issues), setting of incentives, project design and implementation, and on understanding the concerns of numerous stakeholder groups. Potential case studies may include major transport and energy transmission projects and their access by lower-income communities that they pass through; addressing access by low income customers in water, electricity distribution and public transport projects; and large social housing projects.
The Hub is currently seeking Expressions of Interest from parties who can help in the development of the tool.
 IMF Survey : The Time Is Right for an Infrastructure Push, International Monetary Fund, 30 September 2014, p82-83