Author: Ian Laski

What is resilient infrastructure for Southeast Asia?

Growing urbanization and populations, increasing extreme weather events, and decreasing natural resources require a new way of thinking about the most basic elements of infrastructure to be more resilient and sustainable. What does this mean for one of the most diverse and growing regions of the world? Bechtel's Ian Laski and Devex's Raj Kumar, sit down and discuss this.

Transcript of the interview:

"And so, resilient infrastructure. When you think of the climate challenges that we've got today and the growing population challenges that we have today, it's really about re-engineering the way we think of even the most basic elements of infrastructure. 

And so, one of the things I think is particularly exciting about companies like Bechtel is that you're not just providing a service. You're not just building that road or building that bridge. You're actually partners with government in helping them think through this new era. 

And it's something that's really needed. Something that governments, and multilateral banks and others, they see resilient infrastructure as the goal. They understand that vision. 

But between here and there, there's a lot of distance. And learning how we can design city plans. How we can design individual projects that reduce the carbon footprint. That can withstand weather events. That can be designed for cities that are doubling, tripling in population size. And quickly. 

That is not an easy feat. And companies like Bechtel need to be at the table to be a part of that discussion. And I think it's an exciting era that we're in. That there is more and more collaboration between private sector and public sector in a way we haven't seen before. 

I think you've brought up some very good points here. And we're excited to hear it because, I think, being in the region it's obvious that, first of all, understanding what infrastructure is and what does it mean to have resilient infrastructure, again, varies across the region. 

And I think Bechtel—with our presence in the region, with years of experience in Asia-Pacific—is very well positioned to engage with local communities. And understand what it means, a resilient infrastructure, for people in Thailand. What it means for people in Singapore. What it means for people in Malaysia, for example. 

Our understanding of resilience is, generally, we want uninterrupted services and total safety for our citizens. At the same time, when governments have competing priorities in terms of capital investment, they may want to compromise on certain aspects of it. I'm not talking about compromising on safety but, for example, is 100 percent uninterrupted power supply a must or should we allocate funding towards other areas of infrastructure and gradually develop. 

I think that's a dialogue which we're trying to have. That's the dialogue which we are very well positioned to have and to lead. And to become part of this community of interest between various stakeholders which will ultimately shape the understanding of what are the real needs for resilience infrastructure. 

And, of course, as we look at the resilience levels across the region today. And the weather patterns which, unfortunately, are more and more often seen across the region. We see the huge economic drag on the region. 

And if you look at the Philippines, say, two years ago, the big Typhoon generated $20 billion bill in terms of costs. And if you just think about $20 billion and the also impacts on the community, what it does, it just pushes a whole part of the newly emerging middle class back to where they started from. It puts a drain—it basically provides a huge drag to the economic growth and industrial development. 

All of this needs to be understood by people like Bechtel, who have been engaging in these sorts of plans for many years. And who are very good at listening to the local needs. And, I think, from that standpoint, our role is to become at the front end, a facilitator. In the middle, a developer. And towards the end, the provider of the solution. 

And I think that's something which we're striving for in the region. And it's something which we've demonstrated over the years we can deliver." 

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