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Paul Jowitt - Building a better world

It is so important for civil engineers to gain more experience of international development, says ICE president elect Paul Jowitt.

When discussing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Kofi Annan’s former advisor, Calestous Juma, said: “There is scarcely a goal that is not, to some extent, either directly or indirectly tied to engineering.”

And the UK Government’s former chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, was more explicit: “The key to sustainable development in Africa - that is, development that does not rely indefinitely on foreign aid - is the creation of infrastructure. Part of this is a purely physical matter: a question of civil engineering. Business and finance communities in African nations identify the lack of good roads, railways, air and water transport facilities, energy and water supplies, and telecommunications networks as one of the main obstacles to growth.”

Never before has so much been expected of our profession - and those that work within it - to deliver effective, sustainable infrastructure services that support and underpin civilisations across the globe.

Today civil engineers can expect to find themselves on projects all over the world, often delivering vital facilities in some of the poorest countries. Yet few are being adequately prepared to deal with the obstacles faced in the area of international development.

Issues of corruption, local capacity, financing, procurement, governance; all these need to be tackled if major infrastructure projects are to be delivered safely, successfully, and in a way that enhances the local economy.

Achieving the MDGs is just as important now as it was when they were first proposed, and with increased threats from climate change and the world economic crisis, international development should once again be top of the global agenda. Failure to address these issues will not only have disastrous consequences in the developing world, but there will be knock-on effects at a global scale.

This is why my President’s Apprentice Scheme for 2009-10 has been designed to provide an intensive, professional development programme addressing the broad spectrum of infrastructure issues for international development.

This project will not only benefit those engineers involved, but also all those working in the field, as the apprentices will actively participate in the production of an engineers’ toolkit that will guide the profession through the extensive difficulties they will face around the globe.

I am thrilled that such reputed organisations as MWH, Unesco, the Arup Foundation, Lloyds Banking Group, RedR, and EAP have already offered their support to the programme.
What I would ask now is that more companies come forward and partner us in this initiative. Though this is a difficult time, it has never been so important to give our profession the skills and
experience required to deal with international challenges.

Just one challenge we face is that two billion people worldwide are currently without access to an adequate water supply. The UN’s target is to halve that number by 2015. This will mean connecting a quarter of a million people every day.

Civil engineering is a key profession to address this and countless similar problems around the world. We must ensure our engineers have the skills and knowledge to succeed. Infrastructure? This is our job.

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