UNOPS: Planning for future infrastructure needs for the people of Palestine

UNOPS

The Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) is working with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to help the people of Palestine to more easily plan the development of their communities and economy.

The occupied Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip face many challenges in the provision of infrastructure services resulting from years of conflict and neglect, including water and energy shortages that have become a part of everyday life.

Just as the provision of infrastructure can enhance social wellbeing, the lack of infrastructure services can lead to declining health, wellbeing, economic productivity and social freedom.

In Palestine, the demand for infrastructure services are currently not being met in all sectors, with demand expected to only increase further due to population growth, increasing urbanisation, and climate change. Currently there are insufficient public funds for the levels of investments required to meet these shortages. In order to attract additional private and donor investment Palestine must ensure investors that it can devise a national infrastructure strategy that will ensure efficient use of such funding.

ITRC’s National Infrastructure Systems Modelling International (NISMOD-Int) platform and processes for evidence-based decision making provide governing bodies with the tools necessary to develop national infrastructure plans through an exploration of their current and future infrastructure needs. This includes understanding interdependencies, and assessing alternative management strategies for improving the systems’ resilience and robustness.

A key step in this process is the development of a ‘Fast Track’ systems-based assessment (FTA) of current and future infrastructure needs. The FTA begins with a broad understanding of the issues particular to Palestine, moving to a focus on how infrastructure systems are currently being used, and then considers what constrains the capacity of each infrastructure sector. ITRC’s researchers also assess the drivers of future demand for infrastructure services, and identify recent trends and future plans for infrastructure provision.

A range of strategic options for infrastructure provision are then applied to the Palestinian context. Two strategies aim to maintain current levels of infrastructure service provision into the future – Status Quo and Efficiency with Scarcity – with differing levels of ambition around self-sufficiency. These are then compared to a strategy for increasing economic growth and improving infrastructure provision through higher infrastructure investment – Infrastructure-led Development.

Current infrastructure provision

ITRC’s analysis makes it clear that at present Palestine experiences shortages in the provision of most infrastructure services. There is an acute water crisis, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where the average water consumption is below World Health Organisation guidelines and water quality regularly falls below recognised standards.

Underpinning these problems are inadequacies in the energy sector, restricting the capacity of water transfer, water treatment and wastewater management facilities. Solar-based renewable sources of energy provide possible solutions, but land availability and the reliability of the distribution grid have hampered efforts beyond small-scale local energy generation.

Recovering energy from waste has provided some respite. However, despite high waste collection rates in urban environments, the opportunities to make full use of this resource are limited by illegal dumping and a lack of well-managed waste facilities.

Transport infrastructure is all road-based and mobility is restricted by security measures which affect not only internal mobility and trade within Palestine, but also access to external markets.

The challenge ahead

A number of major infrastructure projects are underway or being planned to deliver improved infrastructure services to the people of Palestine. Such measures have prioritised water and energy, with emphasis appropriately given to the acute crisis in the Gaza Strip, and the government of Israel recently announced increases in supplies of water and electricity to Palestine.

However, with current socio-economic trends and the spectre of climate change these measures will still fail to meet the most basic needs in the near future, even under an optimistic scenario of high economic growth, high investment in new infrastructure, and no natural or man-made disasters.

The tight coupling of many of Palestine’s infrastructure systems, particularly energy and water, and energy and transport, require solutions that work with such interdependencies. Given the multitude of government, private and donor community actors involved in infrastructure decisions, it is clear that the Palestinian Authority faces a complex and challenging task ahead. The FTA and the process of capacity building through the application of NISMOD-Int to the Palestinian context are designed to enhance the Palestine Authority’s capacity to meet such challenges.

Work will be needed to develop indicators capable of tracking the performance of alternative strategies and tying these indicators to the UN’s sustainable development goals. Developing such capabilities will enable system-wide evidence-based infrastructure planning to coordinate, prioritise and monitor future delivery of infrastructure services. It will also provide confidence in the institutional capacity and consistency in decision-making necessary to attract further donor funding and much needed private investment into infrastructure and the economy.