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How can we plan infrastructure better in a post-Covid world?

10 May 2023

Navigating global infrastructure challenges requires transparency and collaboration. This is the purpose of the Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme.

How can we plan infrastructure better in a post-Covid world?
The UK is still unpacking the long-term effects of Covid-19. Image credit: Shutterstock

Demographic shifts, climate change, and rapid urbanisation have been contributing to uncertainty in infrastructure planning.

The Covid-19 pandemic compounded this, leaving policymakers to navigate changes in how they plan and prioritise infrastructure.

Since the onset of Covid, countries have faced challenges in setting up long-term strategic infrastructure planning processes.

These challenges are varied but addressing them may be simpler than we think.

It begins with a conversation.

COVID-19 and its aftermath

The outbreak of COVID-19 held back the development of sustainable infrastructure globally.

Specifically, it resulted in a supply and demand shock leading to “construction interruptions or delays due to a lack of personnel, supply chain disruptions, or delays in government approvals”, according to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Not all impacts on infrastructure were negative, as the progress of construction and maintenance projects on roads during lockdown periods show.

But overall, the pandemic resulted in a worse outlook for infrastructure development.

Even now, over three years since its first lockdown, the UK is still unpacking the long-term effects of Covid-19 on the health of its population and its infrastructure.

The pandemic has contributed to the cost of living crisis in the UK. Policymakers need to prioritise funding infrastructure to stimulate economic recovery.

Demographic shifts and urbanisation

As the world’s population continues to increase, the demand for infrastructure services we rely on – such as telecommunication and electricity networks – will also increase.

Over half of the projected population increase up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries:

  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • The Philippines
  • The United Republic of Tanzania

This will put existing infrastructure under pressure and make global goals such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), which uphold basic human rights, more difficult to achieve.

As the fastest-growing populations are often in cities, the sheer scale of the infrastructure need will place immense pressure on national and city-level governments to ensure adequate public services and environmental sustainability.

The UN estimates that the world’s population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030, with 28% concentrated in cities.

This situation has only heightened since Covid.

Patterns of living, working, and communicating have changed.

We need to understand these changes and adopt a flexible approach to planning and prioritisation to ensure that infrastructure meets society’s needs.

Climate change

Every country is facing the consequences of climate change.

In some, rising sea levels are causing erosion, flooding, and habitat loss. In others, extreme weather events are threatening lives.

Unless there are ‘immediate, rapid, large-scale reductions’ in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s highly likely that global warming will exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Generally, people living in low-income urban areas with poor infrastructure are “more exposed to climate impacts but have less capacity to face them”, according to the European Commission.

In a world where we’ve made limited progress toward achieving the 1.5°C target, inequality has reached new levels.

Policymakers now face the challenge of developing comprehensive needs assessments to ensure social equity while also managing disaster risks.

Enabling Better Infrastructure – a resource and community for governments

Navigating global challenges effectively requires a transparent and collaborative approach. This is why the Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme was conceived.

EBI is a multifaceted programme consisting of a resource hub, guidance, case studies, and other resources for infrastructure decision makers to access best practice infrastructure planning knowledge.

It’s also a community where decision makers can share first-hand insight.

Historically, decision makers have been reluctant to openly acknowledge obstacles they've faced. But sharing lessons will lead to better outcomes for future generations.

The interactive EBI knowledge hub highlights different approaches countries have taken to navigate the planning and prioritisation of infrastructure in a changing world and analyses the impact of each approach.

This provides policymakers with clear examples of how different governments have overcome the challenges discussed in this article.

Join the dialogue

EBI is starting dialogues with international decision makers at all levels to get under the surface of their infrastructure planning processes.

These conversations, which you can follow on the knowledge hub and in EBI’s ‘Country Talks’ series, reveal valuable insights into the innovative ways that countries are propelling sustainable development.

Join us!

Learn more about the EBI programme

  • Adina Nembhardt, EBI programme researcher at ICE