Andrew Bird is a senior hydropower engineer at MWH in New Zealand who specialises in the feasibility, design and construction and small to medium sized hydro and irrigation schemes. He has worked throughout the UK and Asia Pacific region and is currently the acting Asia Pacific Dams and Hydro Sector Leader.
Anyone who’s ever travelled ‘off the beaten track’ will have fond memories of bouncing up and down in a bus seat or reading their ‘Lonely Planet’ or ‘Rough Guide’ by torchlight at night due to a power cut. Although frustrating, for those of us that love travelling and do a lot of it, we can approach these challenges with a smile on our face because it’s different than home – it is an adventure.
However, for those who have to deal with these challenges on a day-to-day basis it can be a constant struggle and a real inhibitor to social and economic growth. The challenges can range from unmaintained roads to unreliable water and electricity supplies. These daily obstacles can increase journey times significantly reducing productivity, increase wear and tear on vehicles, can result in kids not being able to do their homework due to a lack of light in the evening and fishermen being unable to reliably freeze produce for selling at a market.
In general a large number of these issues are the result of poor infrastructure maintenance and asset management. This is no more obvious than in the Pacific where a combination of factors combined to make asset management more challenging than in most countries. Additionally, a recent emphasis on building new rather than maintaining old and a lack of funding has resulted in large infrastructure debts which in some cases has become crippling to countries’ economies.
The costs of a lack of infrastructure maintenance are well understood, and people regularly quote De Sitter’s Law of Fives (http://libra.msra.cn/Publication/2027134/costs-for-service-life-optimization-the-law-of-fives) which estimates that for every dollar of routine maintenance that is not done, ends up costing $5 in repairs and up to $25 in complete rehabilitation or replacement (De Sitter 1984). Therefore it’s obvious that you get more ‘bang for your buck’ through good asset management.
A large number of Pacific countries survive on grants and loans from development partners and these partners can have a huge influence on how the funds are spent. Interestingly in a recent publication by the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility (PRIF – http://www.theprif.org/index.php) entitled Infrastructure Maintenance in the Pacific – Challenging the Build-Neglect-Rebuild Paradigm (a report I would encourage anyone who has an interest in Asset Management to read) highlighted that development assistance has historically inhibited asset management and maintenance due to the lack of accountability and risk management from the recipient country.
Measures have been taken to address this and through MWH involvement (both through increased emphasis on projects we have worked on and talking to other potential clients) in numerous projects around the Pacific the emphasis on asset management and maintenance has increased. Our recent experience would indicate that the tide is turning and countries and their development partners are recognising and addressing the issues of asset management, allocating funds to regular maintenance and replacement and taking a proactive approach. Funding of this is not easy and nothing will ever be perfect but the sooner these countries address their infrastructure debt the sooner they can look to the future and improve things for their citizens.