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How Curaçao used the SDGs to improve infrastructure development

17 May 2023

In this Enabling Better Infrastructure case study, we look at the benefits of integrating sustainable development into national infrastructure assessments.

How Curaçao used the SDGs to improve infrastructure development
Over the past century, Curaçao has undergone extensive political and social change. Image credit: Shutterstock

The second of the 12 guiding principles of the Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme outlines how the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a baseline for identifying strategic objectives.

While the UN didn’t design them specifically in relation to infrastructure, the SDGs are a useful tool for measuring the sustainability of an approach.

This case study will demonstrate how a country can integrate the SDGs into a national infrastructure assessment.

By highlighting how Curaçao can accelerate future development, it will also show the value of EBI in scoping opportunities for improvement.

Socio-political context

Curaçao is a small Caribbean island off the Venezuelan coast with a population of around 155,000. The largest contributors to its economy are: tourism, oil refining, and shipping.

Over a century ago, social inequality formed a gap between the upper classes of Euro- and Sephardo-Curacaoans and the lower classes, consisting of Afro-Curacaoans.

Paid labour provided by Shell Oil Refinery from 1918 helped to redress this by offering Afro-Curacaoans the opportunity of earning an income.

While this has resulted in some social change, progress has been slow.

History of Curaçao’s infrastructure

Curaçao’s has had a history of poor infrastructure planning, with upper classes having access to more efficient infrastructure services. This has led to a growing appetite for change.

Over the past decade, heavy rainfall has caused road networks to deteriorate and potholes to form in abundance.

This has only intensified tensions associated with unequal infrastructure.

Road improvements are long overdue to help lower the risk of car damage and increased traffic.

Coastal communities are also under threat due to rising sea levels, where roads can become flooded.

stormy views curacao island
Heavy rainfall has caused roads to deteriorate. Image credit: Shutterstock

A request for action

These issues have led to a push for the government to respond and address the challenges.

This was demonstrated by a ‘motion for better roads’ passed by parliament in 2020. The motion requested that the government of Curaçao improves the country’s infrastructure.

Like many countries, Curaçao is also still grappling with the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Government funding that was initially intended to improve services has instead been spent on keeping the community safe, among other things.

This has slowed down the development of new infrastructure, demonstrated by the lack of recorded progress post-2019, outside of road maintenance.

It’s also fuelled existing inequalities.

Action taken

Between 2016 and 2018, the government of Curaçao worked in collaboration with the United Nations Project for Project Services (UNOPS) and Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) to respond to infrastructure concerns and address their equity.

Together, they developed an evidence-based assessment, called NISMOD, to better understand Curacao’s future infrastructure needs.

They established a package of investments and policy measures that could help it achieve its national development objectives, prioritising sustainability and affordability.

NISMOD was the world’s first system-of-systems modelling platform used for long-term infrastructure planning.

It formed the backbone of this work and ensured that Curacao’s infrastructure plans helped the country achieve social outcomes represented in the SDGs.

The outcome of the collaboration was Curaçao’s first national needs assessment.

Impact overview

Curaçao’s national needs assessment was successful in establishing a strategic vision that aligned with global sustainability goals, helping them to achieve infrastructural, and social outcomes.

This is an example of good practice.

Progress since the first national needs assessment using NISMOD includes the repair of roads with longstanding benefits for all.

The Ministry of Traffic, Transport and Spatial Planning (VVRP) has allocated ten million guilders (549,500 USD) for the re-asphalting of 14-20 major roads.

This will involve removing the surface of old roads and pouring new asphalt on top. Roads needing reconstruction will be subject to public tender.


UN sustainable development goals
The UN Sustainable Development Goals. Image credit: Shutterstock

The SDGs provide a valuable framework for setting up Curaçao’s infrastructure plans to ensure it achieves economic and social outcomes.

Going forward, Curaçao must prioritise maintaining the momentum generated by its collaboration with UNOPS and ITRC.

To do this, it needs to create a strong enabling environment by setting up lines of accountability within government and using the power of the private sector to boost its capacity.

Setting up any strategic infrastructure planning process demands that governments consider all aspects of the infrastructure lifecycle, including maintenance.

Curaçao is an example of where the maintenance of infrastructure has been done well.

To learn more about the value of collaboration and the role of maintenance, read the Enabling Better Infrastructure report.

  • Adina Nembhardt, EBI programme researcher at ICE