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New Research Forecasts Challenges for Global Infrastructure Development

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Pardee Institute for International Futures

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The world is in the midst of several major transitions in infrastructure. And though countries will likely improve their infrastructure networks substantially in the future, the current path points to millions of people without access to basic infrastructure, even by 2060.

That's among the key findings from "Building Global Infrastructure: Forecasting the Next 50 Years," the fourth volume in Patterns of Potential Human Progress (PPHP), a series that explores the future of the global human condition across key areas of development: reducing poverty, advancing education, improving health, building infrastructure, and (forthcoming) strengthening governance. The series, supported personally by Frederick S. Pardee, emanates from the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The series is published jointly by Paradigm Publishers and Oxford University Press India and is available from them or via Amazon in hard copy. The volumes may also be downloaded at

"Millions of people around the world currently lack access to even basic infrastructure," says Dale S. Rothman, lead author of the report and senior scientist at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. "The data show that, in 2010, 62 percent of the rural population of low-income countries did not live within two kilometers of an all-season road, 76 percent of all people in low-income countries lacked household access to electricity, 34 percent to improved water, 63 percent to improved sanitation and 78 percent to modern forms of communication, such as mobile phones."

"We forecast that, if we follow the current path, by 2060, most developing regions will achieve access rates to improved water and electricity that approach or even exceed those of high-income countries today, while access to mobile phones and mobile broadband will approach near universality much sooner," says Rothman.

Millions of people will not feel the reach of these improvements, however.

"We forecast that more than half a billion people will still not live within two kilometers of an all-season road by 2060 and a similar number will not have access to electricity. Approximately 250 million people will not have access to an improved source of drinking water, and more than 1 billion will not have access to improved sanitation."

"The vast majority of these people will be in low-income and lower-middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere," he says. "The current pace of infrastructure advance is not fast enough for most developing countries to achieve universal access to basic infrastructure by 2060 much less by the year 2030, the target date specified in a number of international discussions this week at the United Nations and elsewhere."

"As policymakers begin to set new development goals, they must realize both the potential tradeoffs and synergies. For example, while universal access to basic infrastructure would have many benefits for society, many of these will be neutralized if its pursuit comes at the expense of investments in education and health."

"If universal access is to be achieved by 2030, developing country governments will need increased support from the private sector and/or foreign governments. This could be quite a challenge, however.  We estimate that the amount of resources required to achieve universal access by 2030, without the diversion of domestic public resources from other sectors, to be on the order of 150 to 200 percent of expected official development assistance or 10 percent of expected foreign direct investment between 2010 and 2030," says Rothman.  "If this support is not forthcoming, the international community will need to consider different targets."