Infrastructure, civil engineers and the MDGs

Infrastructure, civil engineers and the MDGs

Would the MDG targets be met even if all the required funds were available?

The perceived problem

  • Each of the MDG targets require some form of infrastructure for its realisation.

  • Funds available for the infrastructural revolution of developing countries are less than those required to close the huge infrastructure gap. At least US$31billion per year over the next decade is needed to close the infrastructure financing gap for Africa alone (World Bank, Nov 12, 2009, Sapa-AFP)

Is that all there is to the problem today?

Would the MDG targets be met even if all of the project funds were available? Does the civil engineer in the developing world fully appreciate the challenges associated with the dawn of urbanisation? Have the funds available been utilised on sustainable assets? What about the maintenance of existing assets? Have the leaking taps of corruption, "red tapes", and inefficiencies been fixed?

The lessons learnt from the success of yesterday will not necessarily solve the problems of today!

Design and sustainability

  • Did you design with a systems view in mind?
  • Is your design promoting the green (affluence and over consumption) or brown (poverty and under-development) agenda? (see Watermeyer, 2006)
  • Did you consider alternative proposals (best practices) or did you adopt the first available option?
  • Did you consider clean carbon and efficient technologies?
  • Did you consider the right procurement strategy for the various components of the design?
  • Did you consider knowledge transfer to local people?
  • Did you twin youth with experience in your supervision team?
  • Did you follow procurement procedures in the selection of a contractor?

  • Asset management
    • Did you make maintenance matter in your design?
    • Did you consider the use of technologies that will lend themselves to upgrading in future?

    <"The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions." – Peter Drucker
    "The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions." – Peter Drucker

Look beyond safety and economic considerations in designing infrastructure

"It is better to know most of the questions than all of the answers" – James Thurber

The civil engineer in a developing world:

  • Must consider issues of asset management, environmental sustainability, and socio-cultural sensitivity for infrastructure integration. Infrastructural development should also lead to the alleviation of poverty. It poses many other questions outside the traditional safety and economic concepts that underpin designs.

  • Must be more proactive in planning, design and procurement responsibilities and the need to appreciate that these responsibilities hugely influence the ultimate value for money in infrastructure delivery.

  • Must keep abreast of best practice methods for the design of sustainable infrastructure, to meet the challenges of today and fulfil the needs and aspirations of people now and into the future

The best engineering solution to a problem is one that, in addition to safety and economic considerations, answers questions on asset management, environmental sustainability and socio-cultural sensitivity including poverty alleviation.



  1. Foster, V (2008) Overhauling the Engine of Growth: Infrastructure in Africa
  2. World Bank Unit Cost of Infrastructure Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa
  3. Watermeyer, R (2006) Poverty reduction responses to the millennium Development Goals