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The state of the nations

Comment

Another year of inadequate thought, commitment and funding.

The ICE's State of the Nation report highlights that, pretty much across the board, underinvestment in planning and management has again left the UK's most vital infrastructure worn out, more likely to fail and unable to meet the long term needs of a growing first world economy.

There is little to celebrate in the UK's transport, energy generation, water supply and waste handling infrastructure. Sadly, the message has changed very little since the report started in 2000.

Yet as we ponder the ICE's report and rage over the shortsightedness of central and local government it is perhaps worth introducing some perspective.

Take for example, Oxfam's annual report on the global response to natural and man made disasters. Here we see the real examples of failure to provide urgent funding, expertise and resources to build, rebuild or repair basic infrastructure.

'2005 has been a year of disasters. The international response has been characterised by televised suffering of the survivors of the South Asia's earthquake and tsunami, driving great generosity, ' explains Oxfam.

'But it has also been characterised by the continuing failure of government to provide timely, suffi cient aid to those - largely in sub-Saharan Africa - who suffer equally but less visibly.' Oxfam has called for a new fund to be set up to tackle the twin problems of humanitarian aid arriving consistently too late to save lives and the aid being determined more by media profile than actual need.

This UN central emergency response fund would be backed by an additional $1bn from each UN member state to ensure that on-going disasters such as the famine crisis affecting 3.6M in Niger, the 2M killed or displaced by confl ict in Darfur or the 10M to 12M people facing severe food shortages in Malawi are not overshadowed by high profi le earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes.

Good stuff certainly. Yet the fact is that all giving - disproportional or otherwise - must be properly managed to ensure the goodwill and support is not wasted or discouraged. TV pictures will always generate immediate but short term charity - the challenge is to use the cash properly to maximise the benefit.

Engineering disaster relief charity RedR has been working hard for 21 years to make this possible by providing the skills and resources to create the basic life support systems from day one of any disaster.

Right now it has staff working in Darfur, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Kenya all providing locals and relief agencies with the engineering training needed to ensure relief cash is spent properly.

This work is now being extended to Pakistan where RedR is set to establish an engineering support service to assist local and international NGOs, government bodies, private companies and other charities working to rebuild after the recent earthquake.

It has launched a fund raising appeal to fi ance this project, adding to a $20,000 grant and the other funding likely from the Department for International Development. It is also raising money from the engineering community through its ongoing 'Wear-Red-for-RedR' anniversary campaign.

So while you muse and moan over the state of the UK infrastructure this week, it is worth remembering how much engineers can achieve for relatively small sums elsewhere in the world. Visit www. redr. org and discover how you or your organisation might get involved with infrastructure issues on a global scale.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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