The Government of Japan and the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), in partnership with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), have recently completed a joint study called Making Infrastructure Work for Poor which focused on small-scale community-based infrastructures. Begun in 2004, the study produced concept papers on the small-scale infrastructure-poverty reduction nexus and governance of small-scale infrastructures-and country studies on Bangladesh, Thailand, Senegal and Zambia. A Synthesis Report highlighting the major conclusions and policy implications derived from the country studies was unveiled at a joint event on 8 March 2006 at the Millennium United Nations Plaza Hotel.
In his opening address, H.E. Kenzo Oshima, Permanent Representative of Japan to the UN, stressed the importance of infrastructure at three levels. At one level and in its most basic sense, infrastructure supports people’s daily lives. At another level, infrastructure, such as roads, ports, electricity, and communication systems, plays an essential role in promoting sustainable development through economic growth. And at a higher level, moving beyond national boundaries, infrastructure facilitates and promotes regional and international cooperation in the globalizing world of today.
In the keynote address, Professor Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel Laureate in Economics emphasized the links between infrastructure and poverty. ‘The absence of infrastructure has a pervasive influence on poverty, but is by no means a free-standing factor in keeping poor people poor….. Pay specific attention to the critically important connections that have been pulled together in this report’, he said.
The study points to the inter-relatedness of infrastructure, human security, governance, and the reduction of poverty- a recurring theme for Prof. Sen and the other panelists.
“Infrastructure builds connectivity,” said Mr. Selim Jahan, Acting Director of the Poverty Group of the UNDP Bureau for Policy Development. “Better governance makes infrastructure more efficient. And infrastructure makes governance easier”.
According to Prof. Sen, by the lack of basic infrastructure such as schools and health care services is a cause of poverty. An exclusively income-centered view of poverty ignores many causes of deprivation. “Poverty can be seen as deprivation of a person’s effective freedom to live the way he or she has reason to want to live,”he said.
‘Making Infrastructure Work for the Poor’ makes three main conclusions: that small-scale, community-based infrastructure has a significant and direct impact on human poverty and security; that local communities feel a greater sense of ownership of these small projects; and that small-scale projects and large-scale national or cross-border infrastructure development are mutually reinforcing.
In the panel discussion, Mr. Toshiyuki Iwama, Deputy Resident Representative of the JICA UK Office, introduced five aspects of what he called “people’s infrastructure”: (1) infrastructure redefined; (2) field-level initiatives in goal setting; (3) integrated approaches; (4) Pro-poor project designs; and (5) reducing the infrastructure gap. He also discussed JICA successful water supply project in Zambia. Based on this experience, he argued that long-term cooperation with partner countries including civil society is important for successful.
UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Development Policy Mr. Shoji Nishimoto noted that ‘Making Infrastructure Work for the Poor’ represents a new chapter in a productive history of Japan-UNDP collaboration. The study, which set out to demonstrate how good governance and improved infrastructure can reduce poverty and enhance human security, was originally agreed to at a Japan-UNDP high-level consultation in 2003, when the role of infrastructure in combating poverty was under review by the international community. Speakers unanimously praised the report and welcomed its contribution.
“There are excellent grounds for determination and resolution. We have something to celebrate here,” Prof. Sen concluded.