Engineers Against Poverty mobilizes engineers around the globe to fight poverty through more effective, transparent and equitable infrastructure development. Founded with an engineering focus, the U.K.-based group has expanded its work to improve ways of life in low- and middle-income countries by advocating for ethical working conditions, mitigating the effects of climate change and reducing poverty worldwide. As a massive infrastructure funding gap stands in the way of global poverty relief, Engineers Against Poverty works to empower a multi-sector network to improve infrastructure policy and practices.
Infrastructure and Global Poverty
Engineers and infrastructure development play a vital role in the fight against global poverty. According to the Asian Development Bank, poverty reduction requires not only well-governed economic development, but also improved infrastructure for irrigation, electricity, water and sanitation and other basic needs. In 2016, Our World in Data reported that 40% of the globe experienced water scarcity and 13% of the world did not have electricity. In 2015 and 2016, one-third of the global population did not have access to an all-weather road. Engineers Against Poverty explains that infrastructure will play a vital role in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were released in 2015 to be achieved by 2030.
“For EAP, its goal is to scale up influence on global infrastructure policy and practice to promote sustainable social, climate and economic impacts that contribute toward the elimination of poverty,” Engineers Against Policy Senior Communications Manager Charlotte Broyd said.
The Infrastructure Funding Gap
One of the greatest barriers to global poverty reduction is a massive infrastructure funding gap. At the 2015 release of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the World Economic Forum reported the infrastructure funding gap would prove the biggest challenge to meet the SDGs. The World Economic Forum explained that there exists a $15 trillion investment gap between the money needed and the existing funding to reach “adequate global infrastructure by 2040.” This gap, Engineers Against Poverty explains, must be tackled as a “governance challenge.” Up to one-third of global investment in infrastructure is lost to mismanagement in governance, particularly in low-income countries.
Broyd commented, “There is a role for many stakeholders in addressing the infrastructure investment gap (governments, international organizations as well as donors). For donors specifically, they can help by recognising the importance of transparency and accountability in the infrastructure sector and the need for support to initiatives and others promoting these principles. This is particularly important in the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis where any economic loss must be minimized.”
The World Bank has identified collaboration between the private and public sectors as a key approach to closing the infrastructure funding gap. The former managing director of the World Bank explained at the release of the SDGs that to help mitigate these investment hazards, investors and donors must make more comprehensive investments in policy, insurance, regulation and more to make their investments effective.
Engineers Against Poverty’s Infrastructure Transparency Initiative
Engineers Against Poverty’s global Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST) is key to closing this infrastructure funding gap. CoST, which currently works in 19 countries, encourages collaboration between civilians, engineers and policy-makers to work toward “improving transparency and accountability in public infrastructure” to reduce investment losses to mismanagement and corruption.
CoST has already seen success in many countries, including Thailand, where transparency, competitive bidding, decreasing contract prices and more efficient fund management have saved the country $360 million in infrastructure spending since 2015. In Afghanistan, CoST-prompted contract reviews saved the country $8.3 million in just one year for road-network maintenance.
The initiative focuses on increasing infrastructure project transparency by improving data disclosure, ensuring data is accessible to the public, creating social accountability for decision-makers and empowering civilians and communities to advocate for better infrastructure governance and delivery. By 2018, CoST had helped disclose data on around 11,000 projects through accessible platforms. CoST has also established legal mandates and disclosure commitments with governments in many countries.
“Our experience indicates that informed citizens and responsive public institutions help drive reforms that reduce mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and the risks posed to the public from poor quality infrastructure,” the CoST website explains.
A key feature of CoST is citizen engagement and media attention, which enables civilians to hold their policy-makers accountable and make the infrastructure funding gap a priority for civil society. “CoST has enabled citizens to advocate for quality infrastructure through community events in several of its countries including Uganda, Ghana, Malawi and Thailand,” Broyd said. “Simply by raising the issues affecting them, citizens give the media powerful stories to report, which has generated much good publicity.”
CoST therefore illustrates the importance of involving citizens in solving poverty locally, nationally and globally. The combined efforts of engaged civilians and Engineers Against Poverty stand to make important headway in the fight against global poverty.
– Emily Rahhal