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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Will sustainable infrastructure rebuild the economy post-COVID?

To rebuild the economies after the pandemic dies down is a behemoth task. Experts have suggested and studies have shown that sustainable and resilient infrastructure is the key to improve, reorganise, and create a growing economy post-pandemic. This will in turn create jobs and better healthcare facilities. As stringent lockdowns have begun easing around the world in numerous countries, the governments are trying to figure out how to recover from this sudden setback while also addressing the massive social and economic challenges that have been brought about by this pandemic.

A crisis might be beneficial as it also brings an opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate what we need to do for our future generations, what we leave behind for them. And what is needed currently is a deep socio-economic restructuring that would rebuild the world and the economies in a resilient and sustainable manner.

 

Will sustainable infrastructure rebuild the economy post-COVID?

There are two types of expenditure whether it is public, ie from the government or private, from the businesses or firms or individuals. Expenditure is either on capital or on short term needs. A major chunk of capital expenditure is on infrastructure. This investment is long term and one time. Even though it is a big amount, it has to be spent only once unlike salary or rent which you have to spend every period. Government investment on public goods includes investment in education, public infrastructure like roads, airports, railways, bridges, etc. Investing in public goods have a multiplier or ripple effect. Say if there is a new road, it not only simply makes transportation easier and faster, it also increases the enrolment in schools as it becomes easier and faster to reach there, fewer people die of diseases or accidents as they can now reach the hospital faster. There is an overall influx in development.

Investment in infrastructure provides employment across society and income class. If there is a hospital being built, making the hospital will create jobs in the real estate sector over various stages. Then come the operation and administrative functions and then the technical staff and doctors along with some other job profiles as well. So, it will provide jobs to the poorest section to which the daily labourer building the infrastructure is part of to the high-income class where the doctor and top management belongs.

Sustainable living and thus sustainable infrastructure is the future. Like the Prime Minister of India has been saying, this truly is an opportunity. An opportunity to rebuild like the future. Instead of going for old power sources, they can opt for solar or wind for a cleaner India. But the major constraint here is getting the capital to jumpstart the investment, which seems to be a challenge now. India needs to spend more on two major areas — education and healthcare. Education will help train the youth to be job-ready while health is the easiest and the most necessary sector to spend in. We need hospitals and there will never be too many hospitals in a developing and populated nation like India.

 

What happens to the Indian economy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led India and its people to rethink how we manage nature and its resources and pave way for a sustainable future. Right now the policies were only focusing on safe living but we need to adopt a new way of thinking, which would be called ‘Sustainable Development Plus’. At a time when resources are extremely important and people were forced to stay inside their houses, managing with what they had, sustainability comes into the picture and it is evident that it will play a major role in the future as well. A recent report by Jitendra Kumar from the NITI Aayog states that “the emerging ideas for managing nature post-COVID-19 take us towards ‘Sustainable Development Plus’ with ‘Safe Living” getting high priority in the core objectives of our development initiatives along-with ‘Safe Future’. For the purpose of keeping the focus on safe living leading to health security for the people, the principle of sustainable development needs to be strengthened adequately even by adding new management parameters. However, the critical question remains, what needs to be prioritized or added to the existing principle of sustainable development?”

The NITI Aayog report lays down some of the crucial points that we as a nation need to keep in mind. “First, we must have a high-quality forest cover. In India, the national goal is to ensure that one-third of the total land area is under forest or tree cover. In addition, attention must also be paid on the quality of the trees. Bael, Nageswar, Neem, Amla and others that have medicinal value should be planted on a large scale to turn our forests into a reservoir of herbal medicines. In view of their utility for communities as well as the environment, forests with such trees would also attract people’s support for conservation,” Jitendra writes. Then he goes on to add, “Region-specific standards for a balanced relationship between humans, wild animals and nature need to be established scientifically and be thus maintained. An integrated farming system — the cultivation of spices, medicinal plants, agricultural and horticultural crops, dairy, and other agriculture-related activities on the farm itself—is a better option for healthy living. Consumption of organically grown fresh fruits, vegetables and milk as well as ayurvedic herbs and spices make our immune systems stronger to fight diseases. Fourth, smart cities and villages need to be planned differently with the construction of houses as per our traditional system of architecture, Vastu shastra. A house constructed as per proper planning, facilitates better natural ventilation and more entry of sunlight inside the living areas, thereby maintaining a healthy environment for the entire family.”

To further talk about how several other sustainable practices can help in the growth of the economy and the country, Jitendra adds that scientific research is extremely crucial in detecting such disease outbreaks for which effective mechanisms need to be in place to prevent it from occurring in such a large scale or at least take massive precautions to save lives and make advance preparations. “Technology-based interventions need to be applied for maintaining pure air and clean water, much required for healthy living. Furthermore, institutional arrangements at the national and regional levels are required to be put in place for effective implementation of the planned strategies for safe living, infrastructure now and in the future,” he concludes.

Thus, we could definitely say that prioritising sustainability will help promote economic and environmental resilience. It will also aid in strengthening rural and urban communities all over the world by enhancing health, the well-being of the citizens and creating job opportunities everywhere.

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