Infrastructure

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While you’ll find several references to Infrastructure on this site, I think this time around I’ll leave it to the experts to do the convincing. Paja akulu anati mutu umodzi siwusenza denga

And if one takes time to browse through the cited references below (some of which are straight off page 1 + 2 of Google), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Infrastructure is one of the essential drivers of economic development. In this sense, and for the avoidance of doubt,  infrastructure is not limited to roads, railways, airports and buildings (for hotels, schools, Universities, hospitals, business centres, research facilities, etc), but also includes for example a good telecommunication network (internet, voice, data and the like) and power supply.

Infrastructure for sustainable development – European Commission

Intro reads: ” Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy. “

Infrastructure’s value to economic growth – Richard Lee, Partner, KPMG (via BBC)

which includes the statement : “…In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations…”

Needs For and Benefits of Infrastructure Connectivity – Asian Development Bank Institute
which includes the statement: “… The rapid economic and population growth of Asian economies in recent years has put huge pressure on its existing infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy, but also in communications. Asia’s infrastructure is world-class in parts, but is generally below the global average. This is a bottleneck to future growth, a threat to competitiveness, and an obstacle to poverty reduction.”
which includes the following statement: – “…An adequate infrastructure is a prerequisite to economic development. Transportation and communications are important in developing and strengthening social, political, and commercial ties. These ties must be developed before trade can be handled on a regular basis.”
Why Is Infrastructure Important – David Alan Aschauer, formerly Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and now (at the date of writing/publication) Elmer W.Campbell Professor of Economics, Bates College
Infrastructure and Poverty – The Global Poverty Project
the Intro reads: “Infrastructure – physical resources like roads, telecommunication networks, schools and drains – is necessary for a society to function: people can’t access healthcare if there are no hospitals; trade can’t take place if there are no roads on which to transport goods to markets. Infrastructure facilitates the basic functions of a society that are necessary to transport resources and people, produce and trade goods, provide essential services and ultimately reduce poverty.”
it follows with ” Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment by acting as a disincentive to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads, electricity or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty. “
and “Lack of infrastructure can also lead to poor health and high mortality. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available, or where lack of roads or bridges makes them inaccessible, people cannot access the medical services that they require to be healthy and productive. A villager in Mozambique explains “The most dangerous thing is that [cholera] has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.”
The Broader Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure – Ian Sue Wing, William P. Anderson and T.R. Lakshmanan, Center for Transportation Studies and Dept. of Geography & Environment, Boston University [similar article here]
uses the term Meso-scale to describe their approach. A slide from their presentation is quite appropriate in summarising some of the developmental + ‘equilibrium’ impacts, and worth replication:-
infra-messo
Finance and Infrastructure: The Economic Benefits of Infrastructure Projects Procured with Private Finance –  Andrew W Morley, International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002.
Infrastructure – Engineers Against Poverty
Intro reads as follows: “Without significant progress in the provision of infrastructure services it will be impossible for many countries to significantly achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, more than 1 billion people have no access to roads, 900 million do not have safe drinking water, 2.3 billion lack reliable sources of energy, 2.5 billion have no sanitation  facilities and 4 billion are without modern communication services.”
which contains the paragraph “When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles.”
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT –  Dr. Mohammad Tarique, Lecturer, University Dept. of Economics, B.R.Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.
Abstract reads: “Infrastructure development has a key role to play in both economic growth and poverty reduction. Failure to accelerate investments in rural infrastructure will make a mockery of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in poor developing countries while at the same time severely limit opportunities for these countries to benefit from trade liberalisation, international capital markets and other potential benefits offered by globalisation”
Private Sector Participation in Infrastructure:the case of Thailand – Deunden Nikomborirak – Asian Development Bank Institute Discussion Paper No. 19
Road Funding: Time for a Change :- Economic Growth Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure Investment – Dr. John C. Taylor,  Associate professor of marketing and logistics at Grand Valley State University and a senior policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
which contains the statement “…No, the key benefit and reason for transportation investment is from helping to make businesses and individuals more productive, across the geographic landscape. We rely on our transportation investments to increase the economy’s overall productivity – both in terms of making individual travel (business and personal) faster and more reliable, and in terms of the productivity benefits of making freight flows faster and more reliable…”
World Bank — Malawi’s infrastructure: A continental perspective: Vivien Foster; Maria Shkaratan, ISSN: 1813-9450.

As you can see, the above papers + articles present a credible argument that a good and functional infrastructure is essential for economic development.
But that’s not to say that there are no credible counter arguments against infrastructure. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure one can cite the prevention of deforestation or preservation of natural habitats as factors against excessive infrastructure. Also, there is the issue of encouraging tourism which could probably mean encouraging greater biodiversity, creating / preserving forests  and wildlife reserves (but even in such circumstances, you still need a world-class airport for a good first impression (the kind of impression you get when you first land at Hong Kong International); functional roads (at least 3 lanes on each side between major cities) that minimises journey times; and world-class hotels and resorts. Why should you give tourists (who in large numbers can be the source of much-needed forex revenue) less than what they are accustomed to, and expect that they will return to your country, or recommend a visit to their friends?). Never mind recommendation, how can you compete on the global stage, when your facilities are substandard? Further, why shouldn’t it be possible to build modern factories with reduced carbon footprint (see Marks & Spencer’s ‘eco-factories’ initiative here) side by side with wildlife/forest reserves?
So, considering all this, I find it hard to imagine a credible setting in which arguments against infrastructure may find pre-eminence, over arguments for infrastructure; especially for a poor country whose majority infrastructure was built  50-year ago; whose roads are littered with pot-holes, with virtually no world-class business centres; that has old airports – with poor facilities including smelly badly looked after toilets; a country that experiences intermittent blackouts almost every week; that is struggling to attract significant investment from abroad; a country where 74% of the population live below the poverty line; which is heavily reliant on agriculture and dwindling tobacco exports + has negligible industrial output; has few natural resources; has a large relatively unskilled young population and suffers widespread corruption and cronyism, even in the upper echelons of its government.

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My question to you then is: why are the leaders of such countries not investing heavily (sooner than later) into major infrastructure projects, when it is in fact a determinant factor in economic development and a serious game changer? Is it because they are in fact not cut out for the job and would be better followers instead of leaders?

Horse Power

“We have skipped an important step” the man said thoughtfully, a moment after we had just arrived and after I finished introducing myself. He was seated on a sofa in the living room of a house located not too far away from the Beeston suburb of Nottingham. We had just met, and I was escorting one of my Nottingham based friends to this house to see another of his friends. In total, there were 7 older men seated on the sofas about the living room, of whom I only knew one. Our arrival just made the place even more crowded  making it necessary for them to fetch two dinning set chairs from the dinning room, just so we had somewhere to sit, which unfortunately was in front of the television, blocking out its view.

“Yes, because for America, and even Europe, horses had been an important mode of transportation that had a significant impact on the economic development of their countries.”

We had found them talking about the importance of transport to development of a country after recent reports of fuel shortages in Malawi.

“It enabled people to travel, to carry their goods to the market, to access markets further away from their farms or factories” someone else said

“They were even used by soldiers during wars” another man said. He continued “But in our countries in Africa, including Malawi, we have jumped this essential step in our development even when few of our people can afford to buy bicycles.”

“Eh komabe bicycles are of very little use in this sense. Yes they can transport people, but they can’t carry all your produce to the market, can they?” someone else asked, responding to the others. “Bicycles can only carry a few things at a time. What we need in Malawi, is for every farming family in the rural areas to have two horses and a carriage, even if they can afford a car, just in case we have problems with fuel”

“That’s  a good point madala,  we complain when we have fuel shortages, has anybody asked how countries such as the US survived before the car was invented?” another declared sarcastically “Why not encourage use of alternative transport such as horses, especially in the rural areas, then they can use their manure to fertilise their farms so that we have better crops, you can’t go wrong with that? That’s how other countries started”

maize

Having read up on this topic several years previously, I pointed out  – after most of the men had expressed their views – that in the US, horses were so essential that the horse population in 1927 exceeded 23 million animals. Even in the UK, horses had been important to their way of life. In fact, there had been such a rapid equine population growth that in 1894 the Times of London estimated that by 1950, every street in the city of London would be buried in 9 feet of horse dung. It was much later after the railways and the automobile came along that the horse population began to sharply decline.

[Read HORSES ARE IMPORTANT TO LOCAL ECONOMY ; and From Horse Power to Horsepower , 2007, by Eric Morris ( at the time a Ph.D student studying transportation at University of California) which includes the words: “After all, the horse had been the dominant mode of transportation for thousands of years. Horses were absolutely essential for the functioning of the nineteenth century city—for personal transportation, freight haulage, and even mechanical power. Without horses, cities would quite literally starve” While there clearly were numerous challenges, it seems there was a phase when horses provided many advantages ]

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“And they can also be used for meat, so that would be a bonus” another man said.

I noted that in the US, there had recently been some complaints (Also see this titled “American West running out of room for wild horses”) regarding the size of the wild horse population.

[“Currently the Wild Horse and Bureau Program spends about $50 million a year just to feed the animals held in captivity. That’s around 70 percent of its annual budget, and horses in captivity live up to 25 years. When it comes to other grazing animals like deer, elk and bison, hunting acts as a substitute for natural predation. Source: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/26/american-west-running-out-room-for-wild-horses/#ixzz2QFNmFHtS ]

Maybe, just maybe this could be an opportunity for poorer countries in Africa. In any case, horses were imported into the US from Europe, and they in turn had been sourced from Asia and Arabia, possibly even from Libya, according to some sources. So for an African government to ask the US or other country for 20,000 horses and donkeys in aid wouldn’t be such a crazy idea after all. I thought it would  create jobs, for the huge logistical operation in transferring the animals from the US to Africa, there would be a requirement of trainers that are skilled in domestication of wild horses, workshops for creating the carriages, artisans for building the stables, training of local veterinary staff for their care, manufacturers of animals feed [who could also produce feed for cattle, goats and other animals], young unemployed men who earn a living by running bicycle taxis would suddenly have horse power to help them in their trade; it could possibly spur sporting events; in summary, besides creating employment opportunities for thousands of people, a whole new industry would emerge. All this would occur while reducing reliance of the rural population on petroleum, and while creating efficiencies in farming and agriculture which could pave way for economic development, or at least a more manageable lifestyle.

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I wondered, putting aside the medical considerations of equestrian health – which I knew made horses slightly more demanding than cattle to look after – how practical or useful horses would be to the rural farming population in Malawi? What impact would they have on transport and agriculture in the rural areas considering they were faster and more agile? Would it not improve – to an extent – the quality of lives and efficiency of farmer families? Would it not help women in rural areas, some of whom have to carry heavy loads for many miles each day? Would it not reduce the prevalence of child labour, in that instead of making children  (or women) do physically demanding work [see Struggle for Water and  Where the Water meets the Sky], the horses could now be used to go collect the water, the firewood, the crops, transport food to and from the market, for policing, transportation of sick people to hospitals (which are sparse and located  in districts, centrally and tens of miles away from some settlements ). Couldn’t horses be used to escort the children to school every morning? [Ugandan Children Walking Miles and Climbing Mountains for their Education (and Cricket!)] Surely, if you can’t afford a car or a bicycle…an alternative form of transport that does not involve fuel or maintenance expenses has got to be an attractive option?

While some people would argue that doing so would be regressive, yet considering that (i) Fuel prices are constantly on the rise in third world countries like Malawi, and most poor people in the rural areas have to walk long distances for one thing or another; and (ii) how petroleum has ‘enslaved’ the  western world, creating tensions between countries, and has been the root cause of several recent military conflicts that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, shouldn’t finding alternative forms of transport that does not use petroleum fuels be encouraged?

In my view, less reliance on petroleum for rural area families would be tantamount to giving a community a fishing rod, instead of a fish and would be much more constructive than food handouts. Further, couldn’t it be described as an ecofriendly form of transportation, doing a lot less damage to the environment than motor vehicles? To prevent the problems described in the article by Eric Morris cited above, a licensing regime could be established and measures undertaken to ensure that certain standards are maintained and the animal populations do not grow out of control, all of which would also provide employment.

I thought all this because I knew only too well what growing up in the village had been, my mother having been born and raised in the rural parts of Rumphi,in Northern Malawi, where there was no transport, where children collected the water and the firewood, often travelling long distances to do so, and where in her case, she had to wake up at 4a.m. and spend 4 hours walking to school and back each week day, just to get an education.

As a teenager, during summer holiday seasons, I would visit my grandmother in Rumphi, where I remember spending many days out with my Aunt and cousins harvesting corn. We would go out early in the morning, on bicycles and make trips from the field, about 2 miles away, to the house, carrying bags of maize which we would empty into a thatched silos made of sticks, grass, bamboo sticks (i think) and mud.

Children from the Tarna village climb on a grain silo in southern Niger in 2010

On each trip, we would each carry one or two bags of dry maize cobs, balanced and affixed to the bicycle carrier using rubber strands.  We would then cycle the 2 miles to grandmother’s house and after we had emptied the cobs into the silos, we would return back to the field to fetch some more corn. In the summer heat and dust of Hewe, there were times when we would make 8 or 9 round trips a day, which in the end left you not only clobbered, but thirsty, hungry, sweaty, oily and extremely dusty.  In these conditions, a horse-drawn carriage would have made a world of a difference.

Similar:

1. A Brief History Of Horses 

2. Horse History : A Bibliography

3. Nigeria: Why Donkeys Are Beyond the Reach of Northern Farmers

4. Khama to donate 150 cattle to Malawi