Infrastructure – whose responsibility?

Till now I have avoided commenting on Haiti – there are enough column inches being devoted to saying much the same things. And the loss of life is on a scale that a dignfied silence might be more appropriate.  The tragedy seems to be unrolling not because Haiti is a poor country – there is help on offer from all quarters. Nor is Haiti inaccessible – it can be reached from the USA by helicopter and is of course an island.

Because Haiti is poor its infrastructure is fragile – so we have the spectre of more people dying after the earthquake than before it because they can't be rescued in time, fed and watered in time. And so the tragdy goes on.  2009 was a tipping point of an unusual kind. For it was the first year that more people lived in cities than lived on the edge or outside them. The future of the human race is urban. Which is why infrastructure has become key. If a major quake hit Mexico city or Lagos – cities then the casualty rates are set to be much higher because the population density means that the collapse of buildings and infrastructure is much harder to address. The Asian Tsunami had great loss of life but because the disaster was spread across the perimeter of the Indian ocean it was much easier for nation states and the UN to address.

Infrastructure has until now been the province of nation states and private enterprise. It seems to me that there needs to be some requirement in the international community for minimum standards in infrastructure since these kinds of disasters are going to become more not less likely. We are sleepwalking towards them. And development economics needs to look at infrastructure not only for the benefit of the feeding employing and educating of poor populations but in expectation of catastrophes and how we clean them up.



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