The Infrastructure Asset Management (IAM) team at UN DESA, together with UNCDF, UNOPS and a growing global team of experts, are shaping a robust programme of capacity development activities for local and central governments across the globe. The goal is to maximize the value of public infrastructure investments and leverage them to finance sustainable development for generations to come.
Drawing from the experiences of a four-year pilot project and extensive fieldwork, the team released in February 2021 the Managing Infrastructure Assets for Sustainable Development handbook that lays out a set of concrete tools and insightful lessons for countries and cities from any region to digest and apply to their unique local contexts. The handbook has already been translated for Spanish and French speakers, with the release of Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, Russian, Serbian and Swahili versions slated for late 2021, covering all six official UN languages and several local languages.
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Infrastructure is the backbone of economic growth and development. It is estimated that realization of over 90 percent of the sustainable development goals is directly or indirectly pegged to infrastructure. This means that unless significant investments in infrastructure are made, achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 is highly unlikely. In many developing countries, the quality of infrastructure, especially transport, energy and communication is below par. Governments have fallen short in allocating public resources towards capital-intensive infrastructure projects, including resources needed to sustainably manage existing infrastructure assets over their entire lifespan. Investment needs have grown further, as COVID-19 not only reversed years of progress on the SDGs, but also revealed critical infrastructure gaps, for example in healthcare and digital connectivity.
Infrastructure asset management can improve the capacity of local and national governments to undertake sustainable, inclusive development. IAM entails a systematic approach to managing assets – over entire life cycles and within a broader asset portfolio. It ensures that initial public investments in infrastructure are not wasted and that they adequately serve communities for generations to come. The growing number of risks and challenges stemming from climate change, public health crises and advances in digital technology make the case for effective asset management as compelling as ever. Effective asset management helps "make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable" – Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is also key to building capacity at local level across the globe for SDG financing, as called for in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
The handbook has also been the basis of a series of interactive virtual workshops – the Online Solutions Dialogues (OSD) – and the upcoming Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on asset management. Between February and April 2021, FSDO engaged over 2,500 participants across Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, resulting in hundreds of the ‘Asset Management Action Plan’ being developed to drive improved management of a priority public asset, such as roads or solid waste systems. Set to launch in summer 2021, the MOOC offers another opportunity to gain practical training on asset management fundamentals, data for asset management information systems and climate- and crisis-resilient infrastructure, this time through a self-paced, 12hr.-long course that is being developed with UNITAR and Columbia University. Driving increased awareness and action around resilient infrastructure for the SDGs, these trainings award certificates that qualified recipients can use to apply for further technical assistance submit proposals to UNCDF’s Municipal Investment Fund.
The IAM team is already coordinating further technical assistance work in its pilot countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Uganda and Tanzania – and in The Gambia, Kenya and southeast Europe. Activities will incorporate new modes and patterns of meeting that arose from pandemic-induced changes to the work environment. Throughout activities FSDO will seek to solidify country-level working groups and strengthen intergovernmental linkages to elevate asset management as a national policy priority that demands sustained high-level commitment and resources.