A truly holistic approach to infrastructure requires stepping away from a silo/sector-based approach and understanding that infrastructure is made up of not just physical things or assets, but consists of three major parts: assets, knowledge, and institutions.
Embracing this concept provides the clarity required to further understand how infrastructure underpins the function of society and acts as the enabling vehicle for desired societal changes and development outcomes. Seeking appropriate, affordable, and accessible services and infrastructure systems requires a holistic approach to understanding, designing, and planning networks of infrastructure and services, as well as solidly linking infrastructure provision and urban planning. This will allow us to then apply a proper risk management process, taking appropriate mitigation measures to reduce vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of infrastructure systems.
The continuing and increasing pressure of population growth specially in cities makes the efficient consumption of natural resources by infrastructure systems absolutely essential if conflict rooted in the issues surrounding equitable access to and use of natural resources is to be understood and managed. There are also further benefits that can be gained through approaches such as that proposed by McKinsey and Company, by understanding and implementing improvements in efficiency and rationalization of existing infrastructure systems.
• Understanding the linkage between availability, accessibility, affordability and adequacy of basic services for the realization of human rights. Basic services are central to the realization of a wide range of human rights, including water, sanitation, housing, health and education. It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that these services:
- are available and physically accessible to all;
- are affordable to all;
- are culturally adapted to various groups of the populations;
- do not discriminate in their access or delivery;
- are safe to use for all, including for women and children. Policies and programs should be developed with and for urban dwellers, should prioritize the ones the more in need of them, and be mindful of the gender issues surrounding them.
• Policy reform. In the face of the challenges posed of rising demand for services, the current inequitable distribution of services and infrastructure, the existing spatial and socio-economic segregation and failure to implement future demand based planning, there is a need for a comprehensive reform of urban infrastructure policies to:
- improve the enabling environment for investment;
- create more effective incentives for greater efficiencies in supply and consumption, as well as the payment of services;
- impose more effective methods for infrastructure planning and service delivery by state, regional and municipal governments and public utilities;
- create stronger model regulatory frameworks;
- remove institutional rigidities and create space to attract and enable the private sector, NGOs, community groups and households to play a greater role in financing and service provision. Policy reform further needs to be based on and take guidance from the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR).
• Building viable and well-managed institutions aligned with infrastructure systems knowledge. One of the lessons learnt from the past 20 years is that the quality of services provided by urban infrastructure is directly related to the capacity of the institutional frameworks and knowledge.
While some progress has been achieved in the past two decades, much is to be done in ensuring effective management of the institutions responsible for the regulation, planning and management of urban infrastructure.
Some sectors have made little progress in addressing the need for institutional reform and financial sustainability, these include urban sanitation, solid waste management in low and middle-income countries, and urban drainage.
• Legal and regulatory frameworks within which development takes place. Understanding that the provision of services and infrastructure does not solve all issues created by poor urban planning or a lack of, for example development in unstable or high-risk areas. Thus, the where and how the assets are created and who decides which assets to create, is as important as the network of assets themselves.
• Developing effective and integrated infrastructure planning. Urban infrastructure is capital intensive and facilities need to be continuously improved and expanded through balanced programs of demand-based planning for the extension of services to meet increasing urban populations and needs. Effective infrastructure planning requires a complete mindset change, all forms of infrastructure need to be considered and planned beyond the current limitations of a sector-based approach, to provide an ‘enabling vehicle’ for societal change and development. New planning approaches and technologies will support progress in the need to reduce the unit costs of infrastructure provision, improving efficiency and quality, ensuring that services are aligned with urban plans, and to plan for optimal expansion of infrastructure to support the urbanization process. Infrastructure and services interventions have a strong impact on city form and city development and thus need to be tied to an overall urban planning and city development strategies, shaping a sustainable and equitable future that addresses a wider communities’ rights.
• Enhancing coordinated implementation of urban infrastructure. Beyond the planning process, there is a need to ensure that the infrastructure is developed and implemented through the understanding of the assets, knowledge, and institutions of infrastructure. In addition, the recognition and understanding of the critical interdependence amongst all spheres of government are needed. This is particularly relevant for metropolitan areas where fragmentation creates missed opportunities for service provision efficiencies; spillovers across jurisdictional boundaries; and regional income and service level inequalities. Coordination mechanisms are emerging: inter-municipal cooperation, legal incentives for cooperation, planning and development agencies, cost-sharing arrangements for metro-wide service delivery, metropolitan development funds, coordinated tax agreements, pool financing, improved linkages between national and local governments’ programs and policies to ensure efficiency and reduce the imbalance.
• Developing new business models and strategic partnerships. Rapid urbanization has increased the scope and complexity of service provision. New business models are now needed to integrate the strengths and capacities of the public sector, private companies, NGOs, and Community-Based Organizations. New approaches are particularly needed in sectors such as urban drainage, sanitation, solid waste, mobility, clean energy provision, and in delivering services to the informal settlements. Although governments in developing countries generally provide, own, and operate all infrastructure, there are alternative approaches that are effective in the provision of services and infrastructure. These alternatives address the need for new business models, such as financial returns on land value increase provided by new infrastructure, green infrastructure, and investment guarantee schemes. Green infrastructure is low-cost, and often high-return, investment approach that has been used to great effect in many cities worldwide. Particularly with regard to the private sector, the development and provision of investment guarantee schemes to attract private investment and to enhance the capacity of governments to make the necessary legal and contractual arrangements aligned with a capacity to regulate and manage private sector entities that provide the physical services provides achievable benefits and opportunities. These approaches have the added advantage of freeing up government capacity to undertake fully integrated networks and systems of infrastructure planning that further ensures that the vital bottom-up validation of such planning is implemented.
• Fostering and applying technological innovation. Technological innovation has become a critical driver for action in the light of emerging challenges20, such as water shortages, the unsustainability of energy systems based on fossil fuels, the need to increase the reuse and recycling of waste, and the increasing frequency and intensity of climate change effects. However, while much is being done to develop new technologies to address these problems, there is a growing need to create platforms to bring together the researchers, the policymakers, the decision-makers, the infrastructure managers and regulators and the knowledge management agencies to more effectively target research to the problems being encountered and to create platforms for pilot testing, application and dissemination of the innovative technologies. The increasing demand for energy in urban areas, estimated at 8% annually in African cities, could be addressed in part by making use of renewable energy potentials that exist in cities. In fact transforming municipal waste into energy, dual repurposing such as rain and grey water recycling, replacing linear water supply systems with closed-circuit systems, exploiting the water-waste-energy nexus are key potentials. Green infrastructure, seen as networks of multifunctional green spaces21, has been shown to offer a range of ecological, social, and economic benefits that enhance ‘grey’ urban infrastructure, if strategically planned and managed . Green roofs, permeable vegetated surfaces, street trees, public parks, community gardens and urban wetlands can offer ‘ecosystem service benefits’ as diverse as improving residents’ health and wellbeing, providing food, lowering wind speeds, reducing storm-water run-off, modulating ambient temperatures, reducing energy use and sequestering carbon24. Green infrastructure thus holds the potential to cushion cities against many expected climate change impacts.
• Adopt inclusive participatory processes, and increased access to information for all residents: In addition to improving transparency as well as the access and diffusion of information, public participation has contributed to improved planning outcomes in the formulation and implementation of plans by addressing the distinct needs of various groups, especially marginalized populations.