Promoting smart development
To promote smart development, Bill and his team investigate why a road is being built.
This involves analysing the social, economic and political forces driving the expansion of roads and other infrastructure. Bill says the team’s rounded approach and collaborative method is paying off.
“We have been very successful in engaging with governments, academic institutions, research bodies and the general public in helping to steer and inform public dialogue and debate,” he says. “We feel it is important to have an impact in the political and public realms about what’s happening and why it’s happening. Developing nations desperately need economic and social development and what needs to be considered is how to make better and smarter decisions.”
As well as acknowledging the potential benefits of roads, Bill says there needs to be awareness about possible risks. Developing nations have limited resources for building infrastructure networks, meaning that investments must have positive outcomes.
“Governments are doing a lot of investing that is not optimal,” Bill says. “The investments are not realising the greatest economic and social benefits and not minimising the risks for society, the economy or the environment. These are enormous amounts of money and projects that have enormous impacts on livelihoods and enormous implications for biodiversity.”
Global Road Map wants people to be aware that roads can have both positive and negative consequences. To find out more about ‘the whole package’ that roads bring to an area, watch the short video below.
While roads might appear to be simple pieces of infrastructure, the process of building and maintaining them is fraught with risks. Corruption might lead to money being siphoned off during construction or roads might not be built to appropriate standards, which makes maintaining them difficult.
“Roads in the wet tropics are very difficult to maintain due to high water flows during brief periods — even the best engineered roads struggle,” Bill says. “Way too much money is spent initially on road development and governments are not considering nearly enough for maintenance.”
A lack of maintenance results in these roads becoming stranded assets. “This is more the norm than the exception,” Bill says. Building roads may be a way for governments to garner support and votes, but the risk of wasted investments and potential scandals are making politicians pay attention and adopt a smart development approach.
Bill says roads are the backbone of infrastructure. Educating stakeholders to question why roads are being built and how they could be built better will lead to improved social and economic outcomes, while also minimising impacts on the environment. For Bill and his team, roads hold the key not just for environmental conservation but for the future of the human species.
“Limiting the expansion of the roads is the single most important thing,” Bill says. “This is absolutely essential in order to protect the future of the planet, its biodiversity and environmental quality and for maintaining the suitability of the planet for sustaining human lives.”
“Limiting the expansion of the roads is the single most important thing. This is absolutely essential in order to protect the future of the planet.”
JCU Distinguished Professor Bill Laurance
If you have a passion for building a brighter future for the Tropics, visit State of the Tropics. The 2017 State of the Tropics report focuses on sustainable infrastructure. To find out more about JCU Distinguished Professor Bill Laurance’s work on better planning for roads, visit Global Road Map.