Sustainable resilient infrastructure is key to economic growth

The MCC-funded road on Samar island withstood Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons in history. Photo by: MCC Philippines

Addressing the impact of climate change is central to sustainable development.

The impact of a changing climate threatens economic growth and disproportionately affects the poor, who are often on the front lines of climate change, living in vulnerable areas and equipped with the fewest resources to adapt to changing conditions.

Investments in infrastructure can serve as a foundation for economic development and growth, help lift families out of poverty and, if done properly, make their communities more resilient to climate change. Building climate-resilient — and therefore sustainable — infrastructure helps ensure delivery of development benefits over the long term.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. actively incorporates climate change considerations in pursuit of its mission of poverty reduction through economic growth. MCC is a U.S. government agency that provides large grants to a select group of countries that have demonstrated a commitment to good governance, economic freedom and investment in their citizens.

When partner countries work with MCC to identify binding constraints to economic growth, the evidence often points to gaps in infrastructure. This includes both physical infrastructure and the related policy and institutional reforms that can enhance infrastructure’s contribution to sustainable growth and poverty reduction. Nearly 70 percent of the more than $10 billion MCC has provided to our partner countries has funded infrastructure, such as roads, airports, ports, schools, health facilities, and power and water systems.

MCC has also made significant investments to build the capacity of our partners to operate and maintain their infrastructure. We also provide technical assistance to help reform laws, regulations and policies that encourage thriving economies and ensure sustainability of physical assets.

Build it to last

MCC is systematically screening all of its infrastructure investments for climate risks and opportunities. We work with our country partners to consider climate change and integrate climate-resilient features as appropriate into the planning, design and implementation of infrastructure projects to help ensure the investments will endure.

The benefits of investing in climate resiliency can be substantial. For example, MCC recently partnered with the Philippines to upgrade more than 133 miles of a coastal roadway on the island of Samar. This road serves as the main artery for travel and commerce. During the environmental assessment of the project, we evaluated climate change-related risks and concluded that over the next 20 years, the road would be subjected to increasingly frequent storms, intense rainfall and a potential rise in sea level. Any of these factors could significantly threaten the long-term viability of the road and, more importantly, negatively impact families and the local economy.

In light of these risks, the road designs were modified to integrate climate adaptation measures, including raising bridges, upgrading drainage systems, installing protective sea walls and strengthening road embankments. These climate-resilient modifications were made for a modest investment of 10 percent of the total project costs.

The value of this investment became clear in Nov. 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms on record, made landfall on Samar. The road was directly in the path of the storm but survived largely intact. It provided a crucial artery for the emergency response, subsequent reconstruction and the ongoing development of Samar. The government of the Philippines is now applying these climate-resilient design standards to other national roads.

The private sector must be involved

The World Bank recently estimated that low and middle-income countries face a gap of more than a $1 trillion per year in required infrastructure investments. Efforts by national governments and development assistance alone — even when effectively delivered and implemented — will not be enough to address global poverty and this growing infrastructure gap. What will make the difference is engaging the innovation and resources of the private sector, particularly with regard to climate resiliency.

As a primary driver of economic growth, the private sector is now responsible for more than 80 percent of the resources flowing to developing nations, according to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. Such scale and scope make partnering with the private sector on designing, financing and building sustainable resilient infrastructure a necessity — and also smart business — if we want to seriously and sustainably put families, communities and countries on the path to growth and opportunity.

Governments and donors alike need to draw on past lessons and consider more commercial approaches to how development assistance can support infrastructure needs, including ways of engaging the private sector in building, maintaining and operating sustainable and resilient infrastructure assets. Healthy, growing economies of tomorrow rely on climate smart investments today.

Natural disasters, resource constraints and new patterns of development require companies and governments to plan for energy and other related infrastructure to be both resilient and sustainable. During this monthlong series brought to you by Devex and Bechtel, we’ll explore strategies for deploying sustainable resilient infrastructure to help advance global development. Visit the campaign site Engineering the Next 100 Years and join the conversation using #build100.

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About the author

  • Jonathan Nash

    Jonathan Nash has over 20 years of experience in international project development and management. As a managing director at the Millennium Challenge Corp.’s Department of Compact Operations, Jonathan is responsible for managing the infrastructure, environment and private sector division that oversees a $5 billion global portfolio of economic growth projects.