The key to development success rest on a solid foundation
Concrete is the second most utilized resource in the world, next to water. Yet it remains under-appreciated within the ranks of economic development initiatives. Concrete forms the foundation for critical infrastructure on every continent. Global supply chains for concrete production are a vast economic engine that produces millions of skilled and low-skilled jobs and supports much of the world’s wealth. Unfortunately there is a huge disparity in concrete production capabilities between industrialized and developing nations. This gap can be reduced dramatically with the addition of appropriately scaled technology and incremental support from more advanced supply chain partners around the world.
For any developing country to become competitive in global trade, it must first develop the essential infrastructure on which to build success. Sufficient and reliable supplies of both water and electricity are essential to economic growth. A satisfactory infrastructure of roads, bridges, ports and airports is necessary to become a participant in world markets. Without strengthening these projects at the foundational level, other development challenges cannot effectively be addressed.
Infrastructure is dependent upon one commodity more than any other – concrete – along with its supporting supply chain. Without a reliable supply of consistent quality concrete, roads, bridges and airports are not sustainable. Water and electrical projects fail prematurely without concrete to increase service life.
Buildings depend upon solid foundations built with quality concrete to withstand disasters. Homes, particularly in developing nations, rely on concrete and concrete block to shelter families. Without dependable concrete the risk of construction failure increases and the world’s poor are impacted at many levels. A broken concrete supply chain is a hidden contributor to economic depravity within the countries we target for development assistance. Expanding the supply chain to include developing nations will yield increased trade, raise wages and will lower the losses that continue to tax the world’s resources.
We have all seen the devastation that occurs when structures are built using sub-standard concrete. The story of a quarter million people dead from a relatively modest 2010 earthquake in Haiti is the story of failed buildings collapsing on people – buildings that fell because of a failed concrete supply chain. Billions of dollars in infrastructure was lost or damaged needlessly due to the lack of good concrete practices. This impacts the regions scarce commodities and requires that additional billions be spent in rebuilding the country. If Haiti’s concrete would have been sustainable, these losses would have been minimal.
If you want a vivid example of the importance of a solid concrete supply chain, compare the rebuilding activities after the Haiti Earthquake with Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. By most estimates, within less than 9 months of the Tsunami in Japan, a large percentage of the damaged structures have been repaired. By contrast, in Haiti, after two years not even half of the debris has been removed and few permanent replacements have been built. These two events highlight the supply disparities between industrialized Japan and a developing country like Haiti.
Why the huge difference? There are many reasons, including Haiti’s dysfunctional government, a culture of corruption, and a vast population of poor. It could be argued, however, that Japan’s excellent supply chain for concrete is the most significant reason. First, buildings, roads, dams, port structures and bridges were built with quality concrete, the product of a functional and well-dispersed supply system. Japan’s lesser damaged structures were easier to repair than in Haiti where their poorly supplied concrete structures required complete removal and replacement. Over time Japan has built their sustainable infrastructure to mitigate risk, while Haiti just builds anyway that they can.
Second, it took little time to get the concrete supply chain up and running again to produce the materials needed to repair the infrastructure of Japan. This functioning concrete system provides a burgeoning job market, business opportunities, rising wages and supports a middle-class.
In Haiti, with only a couple of functioning concrete production companies, finding quality concrete and a job are major problems. The lack of capacity is exacerbated by poor sand and gravel resources, a lack of quality control procedures, transportation restrictions and inadequate engineering. Without access to the appropriate concrete technology and supply systems, developing countries like Haiti will continue to build haphazardly. Spent resources will again return to rubble and the poor will continue to lose the three benefits of a working concrete supply chain – wages, homes and personal safety.
Within industrialized countries, quality concrete is available from thousands of concrete production facilities located in almost every community. In developing nations, people resort to mixing concrete on the ground using only shovels, a process that is a proven failure. The resulting shovel-mix generally has too much water, incorrect amounts of sand, rock and cement, and is poorly blended. As has been seen in Haiti, Pakistan and elsewhere, poor quality concrete cannot withstand even a moderate earthquake and results in massive rescue and foreign aid efforts.
Imagine the impact on economic opportunity and personal safety within these developing nations as we help them develop better concrete supply systems. We can envision a 2025 that will find an empowered workforce with the technology to manufacture quality concrete.
In that time we will find thousands of local trading partners within a functioning concrete supply chain.
In the future there will be new infrastructure projects using more sustainable processes. We will find rising wages and a growing middle class.
2025 will find developing nations with the solid foundation upon which to build their opportunities in the broader supply chains of the world.
Industrialized concrete supply systems from around the world have the skills and technology to share these opportunities with those who must improve their own systems. They only need the motivation to join in the effort. This longstanding challenge to sustainable development will dissolve away as we focus on applying transformational approaches and solutions to the worlds poorest concrete supply chains. These are the concrete solutions that are needed for global economic health.