Infrastructure and Poverty
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.
Sewers, bridges and power lines are often taken for granted in countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand. But many developing countries around the world lack even the most basic infrastructure. Infrastructure is important, not just for the provision of basic services, or for the economy, but also allows for the poorest communities in the world to gain access to a wide array of social services, healthcare and greater possibilities for livelihood.
Lack of adequate infrastructure perpetuates poverty.. because it denies possibilities. Hunger, one of the most obvious symptoms of poverty, is often less the result of a lack of food than a distance from food. When people live far away from food sources, food security depends on infrastructure that ensures food can be transported in an efficient and cost effective way.
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, electricty or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty.
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 answer to treating cholera in this case is not medicine or doctors, it's a bridge.
Infrastructure that provides access to water and sanitation facilities are also key to good health. Tube wells or piped water are needed for people to drink, cook and bathe. Sanitary toilet facilities are required to prevent the spread of bacteria and disease.
In addition to health, education is another important factor that enables people to overcome extreme poverty. Where there are no schools - another essential element of basic infrastructure - it becomes difficult to educate children or adults.. leading to a cycle that deprives later generations of learning.
Investment in infrastructure development and maintenance is essential to address these as well as other factors that contribute to poverty.
However, simply developing infrastructure is not enough. In addition to perpetuating poverty where infrastructure does not exist, poverty can also affect how much access people have to infrastructure where it does exist. This is especially true for women, who make up two thirds of the world's poorest and who have the least access to economic infrastructure as a result of social and cultural norms. Infrastructure must be pro-poor and gender sensitive to ensure that it benefits those who depend on it to escape extreme poverty.To read more about Women and Gender, click here.
Infrastructure and the MDGs
Each of the eight MDGs depends on some element of infrastructure. From reducing hunger through improved roads on which to transport food or better irrigation systems, to building gender-sensitive infrastructure that benefits women, substantial investments in infrastructure will be required to meet the MDGs and their targets.
There are some challenges: