WILMINGTON, Del. — This month, President Obama stood in front of the I-495 Bridge in Delaware in order to announce an initiative to improve America’s infrastructure. Obama used his executive authority to enact the Build America Investment Initiative to improve transportation, increase private investment and create jobs in the face of congressional inaction. As the president argues, improvements in infrastructure translate into improvements to the economy.
The U.S. government’s focus on infrastructure development, though, does not end with the U.S. infrastructure. According the U.S. Agency for International Development, basic infrastructure includes “power, water, sanitation, information and communications technologies and roads.”
While the U.S. infrastructure developments mostly concern improvements to, among other things, roads, harbors and electric grids, infrastructure development abroad oftentimes concerns the creation of a basic infrastructure.
For instance, USAID said that 2.6 billion people in the world lack full access to electricity and 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation. Over 1 billion people do not have access to telephone lines. For developing countries, creating basic infrastructure plays the dual role of improving the economy and combatting poverty.
According to the International Labor Organization, the establishment of greater transportation fuels the creation and increased productivity of businesses. Increased productivity oftentimes results in expansions of businesses, which creates opportunities for decreasing unemployment. Improved transportation also allows for greater access to education, which increases social and economic mobility. Similarly, improved communication and energy increases the productivity of businesses and increases access to education.
Further, the ILO provides evidence that access to energy improves livelihoods and reduces poverty.
In Bangladesh, the poverty rate was seven percent higher in regions without energy development projects. A 1998 study of Tanzania argued that electricity increased household income by over 60 percent.
A World Bank study argues investing in international infrastructure also moves the world closer to completing the Millennium Development Goals. Specifically, infrastructure development impacts infant and child mortality rates and the presence of malnutrition.
According the study, while other development and poverty reduction programs are necessary to effectively combat global poverty, infrastructure development is essential to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. Access to water, for example, reduces child and infant mortality, and access to housing and sanitation paralleled rates of malnutrition. Malnutrition, in turn, directly affects maternal health and the health of a child at birth.
USAID contributes directly to infrastructure development internationally. According to its website, the U.S. currently invests $1 billion in infrastructure projects and has provided improved communication, health and education sites in 80 countries. In Afghanistan, USAID has aided the country in providing more reliable electricity, and in Vietnam, USAID helped to ensure wider access to telecommunication systems.
Further, the Energize Africa Act, which passed in the House on May 8, helps to ensure the availability of electricity in Africa. According to The Borgen Project, 68 percent of the African population does not have access to electricity, and of those who do have electricity, large numbers face regular power outages. The Energize Africa Act pushes the U.S. government to apply pressure on African governments to expand access to electricity. By 2020, 50 million more people would have access to electricity. However, the Energize Africa Act has yet to pass through Senate.
This month’s push for infrastructure development in the U.S. by President Obama does not incorporate the international need for improved infrastructure.
However, it should.
Improvements in international infrastructure mean reduced poverty and improvements in international economies as well as further improvements to the American economy. Reduced poverty and increased business productivity abroad mean more opportunity for business growth and reduced unemployment in the U.S.
– Tara Wilson
Sources: The White House, The Atlantic, International Labour Organization, The World Bank, The Borgen Project