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The first thing I heard at today's session of the 2nd Annual Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum in Washington, DC, USA was a challenge--well, two challenges, really, to "getting the big things done": Identifying good major infrastructure projects and getting them financed. What exactly are "good" infrastructure projects? They are ones with solid project management, of course, but also ones that offer a return on investment. Many speakers said governments will have to share the risks, not just private concessionaires.
Enrique Garcia, the president of the Andean Development Corporation, a major development bank serving all of Latin America, said it was interesting to hear that in the midst of the economic meltdown this forum was discussing infrastructure projects in the medium and long term. He happily reported a very recent trip to Panama where his and other development banks signed a $2.3 billion funding deal for the Panama Canal expansion. To make infrastructure projects possible, Mr. Garcia said, financial institutions have to be partners, not competitors.
More "good news" came from Masaki Omura, managing director of the Japanese Finance Corporation. He said his institution was proposing major contributions toward infrastructure to cope with difficulties in the private financing sector, including $2 billion in recapitalization of projects in developing countries. Mr. Omura noted that there is still, by World Bank estimates, $165 billion in annual infrastructure demand through 2010 in eastern Asia alone.
Judge Quentin Kopp of the California High Speed Rail Authority reminded the audience that two great infrastructure projects were built in his state during the Great Depression--the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges. A number of dams were built then as well.
Many interesting projects were presented on today's panels. A number of them involved sustainable energy, such as Multiner Energy's efforts to build wind-driven power plants and waste-to-energy plants in Brazil. Another wind project on Cape Verde (an island nation off Africa with the best trade winds in the world) was discussed. And Israel is looking to take advantage of its most abundant renewable resource by building multiple solar energy plants in the southern part of the country.
CG/LA Infrastructure, the firm running this event, bestowed awards on the "global champions" who are making large projects that improve our world even in extraordinary economic times. And by the end of the day, it seems that one answer emerged to the challenges posed at the beginning of the day--cooperation and sustainability are what will keep these projects going.