Resilient infrastructure for a sustainable future – 20 Sep 2022

The ongoing flood situation calls for the timely execution of construction layouts and infrastructure alleviation

Pakistan is currently undergoing a period of extreme calamity. Entire areas have been wiped out in the wake of torrential rains and floods. This has led to an increased demand for not just rehabilitation work but also a deeper introspection on what would be the future of countries that are most vulnerable to climatic changes. Basic infrastructure needs and inclusive policies come as the first step towards building and rehabilitating villages, cities and countries.

In Punjab, the Communication and Works Department (C&W) is responsible for planning, constructing and maintaining infrastructure for use by the public at large. In line with its policy imperatives, the C&W envisions “optimal” infrastructural development within a “fair, just and equitable” manner. The need to mention this agenda becomes relevant for two reasons: one, optimality depends on the sustainable and green use of resources; and two, a fair and just distribution of these resources is predicated upon the principle of accessibility and inclusivity.

A country’s infrastructure may be viewed as a doorway to the effective realisation of human rights — hospitals, bridges, schools and roads serve as enablement tools for certain social, political and civil rights. But at the same time, infrastructure development also has an infamous role in defining the climate situation. According to a report titled ‘Infrastructure for climate action’ published by UNOPS, UNEP and the University of Oxford, infrastructure accounts for 79 per cent of all greenhouse gases. This places it at the heart of any country’s policy for advancing towards sustainable development goals. Holistically speaking, the agenda of C&W in Punjab paves the way for economic growth under the principles of sustainability enshrined in SDG 9 which enjoins states to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”.

The ongoing flood situation calls for the timely execution of construction layouts and infrastructure alleviation in order to provide humanitarian assistance to areas that have been rendered inaccessible. In this regard, the C&W has undertaken steps to restore and repair roads and build temporary bridges to flood-affected areas in southern and central Punjab. In areas worst affected by floods, relief measures have been dispatched on a priority basis. This includes the installation of temporary bridges on Dajjal Rajanpur road, Indus Highway N-55 and Chowki Wala road. In addition to Bailey bridges on other affected roads, 35 roads in Southern Punjab and 91 regional roads in Central Punjab have been repaired and made operational to effectively allow for relief operations. Keeping in view the urgency of the situation, the C&W is striving hard to relay boat bridges (which are otherwise seasonal) to areas that have been flooded in order to tackle traffic congestion and impediments to relief operations caused by collapsing infrastructure.

Many countries in the world have positively set precedents for sustainable infrastructure development for others to follow. For instance, states are tapping into the global world market and private sector investments for financing development in ecologically viable ways. This can be seen in the case of Washington DC where regulations encourage private developers to incorporate a policy of green infrastructure (used for water purification and climate mitigation) within their plans.

In view of the concept of green infrastructures, Singapore has managed to transform water bodies beyond their function of a drainage channel into green urban parkland now known as Bishan Park. Another example of effective sustainable infrastructure is the bus rapid transit scheme in Nigeria which has allowed for the organisation and segregation of mass transport (by using raised median and road markings on existing lanes) to reduce congestion on roads and travel costs all together. While infrastructure is pivotal to economic and sustainable development for any country, it is important to ensure that it does not become an impediment to the realisation of human rights. As such, human rights guidelines and principles for instance the 4As (availability, accessibility, acceptability and affordability) become relevant in serving as a compass for progress. In terms of sustainability, there must be a conscious effort to employ indigenous material and traditional practices in construction. Architectural plans and layouts must be economically viable and ecologically sustainable. In short, environmental engineering must exist at the core of biodiversity goals.

Pakistan is undergoing a period of extreme drastic change. This is the right time to expedite policy that analyses pre- and post-disaster infrastructure for a sustainable future.

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