Infrastructure such as roads, water supply networks, electricity and robust public institutions play a central role in development and the distribution of poverty. Here, Lydia Baker draws on her own experience in rural Tanzania to emphasise the importance of links between roads, access to water and development.
The post-2015 development agenda is coming up as we move towards the expiration of the MDGs. The MDGs have achieved a great deal, but they focused on the symptoms of poverty, such as disease prevention and child mortality. Whilst the symptoms of poverty do undoubtedly need to be relieved, the real issue at hand is to uncover and solve the causes and the persistence of poverty. My experience in Tanzania brought to light two very simple issues that are crucial drivers of development, yet are often overlooked: roads and water.
Roads provide a network
The main hubs of activity in the rural Tanzania were based alongside main roads. This, for obvious reasons is logical, roads provide a network with which people pass through and goods and services can be provided.
The post-2015 development agenda in its current format covers some of the key issues facing the world. Investment in infrastructure could provide a ripple-down effect to communities who are in need of vital services and facilities. Without roads the people who most need essential things such as vaccines will not be able to get them.
Investment in roads would also help to boost economies for developing nations and local communities. The area would see an influx of workers and provide locals with jobs, emerging as an economic hub. In Tanzania, the hubs of activity, as I have said, were alongside main roads, and if these roads were to be invested in then the resulting development could be massive.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family”. Water is essential for livelihoods and survival: a person needs water to survive. The quality of this water, however, is essential to a person’s livelihood – a clean water source can reap huge benefits in terms of lifespan. Unclean water spreads diseases and is responsible for a large rate of diarrhoea in children in sub-Saharan Africa, killing on average 4000 children a day. Of those worldwide who do not have access to clean drinking water, many live in remote rural areas.
Development and settlements usually occur near a clean water source so people do not have to travel great distances to collect water. I witnessed that in rural areas in Tanzania, clean water was provided to the community in the form of rain water collected in a large (approximately 10,000 litre) container. There is one thing that links the rain water and the container – a road. How else would it reach its final destination?
Investment in sound quality roads, especially in rural areas where many of the most vulnerable people live, is crucial to reducing poverty worldwide. Investing in infrastructure from a bottom-up level, using local communities could have a ripple-effect helping to address many of the MDGs. The post-2015 agenda needs to make this a top priority that could be crucial in creating a sustainable future in the developing world.
However, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and the scale of investment needed to develop a sound infrastructure system would require a level of spending that would absorb 20% of the country’s GDP. So, where would the money come from?
Foreign investment could provide the answer, however it’s not always this simple as foreign investment can often have drawbacks. For example, Chinese funded dams in Lesotho have increased the supply of water in South Africa and boosted economic growth in Lesotho by one third, yet have also raised negative environmental and social grievances. One of the greatest consequences is that over 25,000 people have been affected by the dams either by losing their homes or farm land, resulting in a loss of livelihood for the local population.
Whilst foreign investment could certainly aid infrastructure projects, the ramifications for the local population also need to be considered. Building awareness of the potential dangers of foreign investment could ensure that projects do actually benefit the local population thus ensuring that investment in infrastructure in both sustainable and ethical.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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