Tackling the Climate Vulnerability of Africa’s Infrastructure

31 October 2013

Source: By Jamal Saghir, Director, Sustainable Development, Africa Region, The World Bank

Africa’s poor state of infrastructure cuts economic growth by 2 percentage points every year, and reduces business productivity on the continent by as much as 40 per cent according to the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic flagship study, “Africa’s Infrastructure: A Time for Transformation”.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been growing at a fast clip – achieving annual growth rates of five per cent and more – and sustaining this momentum will increasingly depend on sound infrastructure.

But most of infrastructure is long-lived, and its performance will be affected by the climate of the future, which as we know, is changing rapidly. According to the latest assessment report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the increase of global mean surface temperatures for 2081–2100 relative to 1986–2005 could exceed 4 degrees Celsius in the higher emission scenarios. Climatic changes could be particularly severe in Africa, where summer heat extremes virtually unprecedented in historical records, could become the norm in over half the continent towards the end of the century.

How will climate change affect the design, location, timing, and composition of the stock of infrastructure that will need to be built in the short- to medium-term? Among development practitioners, there is growing consensus that the knowledge available to answer these questions is largely inadequate. 

The World Bank, as a knowledge-intensive institution and a leading financier of infrastructure development in Africa, decided therefore to mobilize efforts to fill in this gap. We have teamed up with the Africa Climate Policy Center (ACPC) -- a think-tank hosted at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and co-sponsored by the African Union and the African Development Bank -- to conduct an exciting new study on what would it take to “climate-proof” Africa’s infrastructure?

Funded through the generous support of the Governments of the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and by the Nordic Development Fund, the study aims to evaluate possible impacts of climate change on achieving infrastructure objectives and goals encapsulated in regional programs such as the Program for Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA), as well as national strategies. We believe African countries stand to benefit from answers to the following questions pertaining to climate impacts and adaptation options:

  • Impacts: assuming no adaptation, what is the range of deviations (over different climate scenarios) that climate change would cause in terms of progress toward specified infrastructure deployment and service goals as derived from plausible infrastructure development targets?
  • Adaptation: what is the cost of reducing, across as many climate scenarios as possible, the risk that investment in the infrastructure sectors of inquiry may be inadequate to the climate of the future (in terms of size, siting, or design)?

The study focuses on three types of infrastructure: water (including hydropower, irrigation, and urban water supply), electric power, and roads. For water management, the scope of the analysis includes Africa’s seven major river basins -- Congo, Nile, Niger, Orange, Senegal, Volta, and Zambezi. For the power sector, the study will look at the four power pools of Sub-Saharan Africa (in the West, Central, East and Southern regions of the continent). For transport, the analysis will address transnational corridors as well as national networks.

Building on a wide range of state-of-the-art models projecting future variations in key variables (such as temperature and precipitation), the study team will develop estimates of the resulting changes in parameters of relevance for infrastructure planning and design, such as river flows, water storage potential, water demand for irrigation, maintenance costs for road networks, etc.

The results generated by the study will be useful at policy and project levels.  At the policy level, the study will generate insights on the ability of current infrastructure strategies (regional and national) to yield the intended benefits under the different climate scenarios, and on the scale of resources which may be needed to make those strategies more climate resilient. As some of the trade-offs in water use may be exacerbated under climate change, the study will also provide new information on the benefits of cooperation at the basin level and through regional-scale cooperative management of infrastructure.

At the project level, the study intends to develop practical approaches for the design and management of individual infrastructures under the harsher climate of the future. To ensure that projects will deliver their services in as many climate scenarios as possible, there may be a need to consider a wider range of engineering parameters or contractual arrangements, than what would be warranted based on historical climate alone. Costs and benefits of the various alternatives will be assessed to help project developers come up with robust design solutions.

In addition to African governments, the primary target audiences are key institutions such as the African Union Commission, regional economic communities, power pools and river-basin management organizations. We expect that the results of the analysis will be available in the summer of 2014 at which time my colleagues and I are looking forward to sharing them with stakeholders and the international development community

  1. Teravaninthorn, S, and G. Raballand, Transport Prices and Costs in Africa, World Bank, 2009
  2. Freund, Caroline, and Nadia Rocha, What Constrains Africa’s Exports?, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5184, January 2010
  3. World Bank/IFC, Doing Business, 2013
  4. World Bank, Africa’s Infrastructure: A Time for Transformation, 2010
  5. Teravaninthorn and Raballand, op. cit
  6. FIA Foundation, Counting the cost: road crashes and the poor, 2005
  7. Schlumberger, C, Open Skies for Africa: Applying the Yamoussoukro Decision, World Bank, 2010
  8. Data from PPIAF PPI data base for 2002-12: if South Africa is excluded, the ratio is 17%.
  9. MIGA, Political Risk: The Missing Link in Understanding Investment Climate Reform?, March 2012
  10. For a fuller discussion, see Eberhard, Anton, The Independence and Accountability of Africa’s Infrastructure Regulators, Keynote Address at 4th AFUR, Annual Conference, April 2007
  11. OECD, Mapping Support for African Infrastructure Investment, 2012
  12. See, for example, IEG, Improving Institutional Capability and Financial Viability to Sustain Transport An Evaluation of World Bank Group Support Since 2002, 2013

Category: General News

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