More infrastructure? Better infrastructure!(POLICY AGENDA: INFRASTRUCTURE)

Author:Bustos, Elida

Over the next 20 years, Latin America will need to do more than build new infrastructure. It will also have to concern itself with maintaining what's already there, prolonging its useful life, renewing it, and optimizing its capacity to the maximum.

It's not enough to build a huge dam. The transmission lines connected to it have to be well maintained so the electricity they distribute arrives at homes and factories without interruptions. And the highways have to be properly maintained, because if not, they will deteriorate steadily over a few years and will have to be built all over again.

This approach--taking into account not only the construction of new infrastructure works, but also its maintenance and prolonging its useful life--really works to improve people's quality of life. This is the new vision the multilateral credit organizations are putting into practice.

"More and more, we are seeing infrastructure as a vector of social inclusion, as something crucial for the quality of life of the people," Tomas Serebrisky, senior economic advisor for the Infrastructure and Environment Department of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), told Latin Trade. "What's important to us, for example in the case of electricity, is that a person, a home, is connected and receives electricity 24 hours a day with proper tension and at an affordable rate, not the number of high-voltage lines we build. We're talking about focusing less on works and more on services."

This new approach to infrastructure incorporates environmental, social and financial sustainability as its fundamental pillars, and recognizes that a multi-sector focus is essential for making it possible to take advantage of the synergies among infrastructure sectors.

Similarly, Gabriel Goldschmidt, director of infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean for the World Bank's International Financial Corporation, said, "What's needed is more investment than works. Works are limited to construction, and our experience shows that sometimes creating something is what's needed, and other times it's much more useful or efficient to fix what's already there."

Goldschmidt recognized that this new way of thinking could be less attractive for governments than the traditional approach of "creating works." There are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies in repairs, and maintaining or modernizing projects doesn't give politicians headlines in the news, but it does play a basic role in strengthening a nation's infrastructure. "It's less attractive and less visible to repair turbines to prolong the useful life of a hydroelectric project...

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