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Infrastructure for sustainable development

Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy.


EuropeAid is strongly engaged in supporting infrastructure policies, investment and services in developing countries. The money spent in this area equates to about one-fifth of overall official development assistance managed by EuropeAid.

The main sectors of co-operation between the Commission and developing countries are:

  • Transport
  • Water and sanitation
  • Energy
  • Information and communication technology
  • Urban development

Euroean Commission funding is mainly channelled through country and regional programmes that are developed in partnership with recipient countries. EuropeAid also provides funding through sector-based programmes that cover such areas as water and energy.

Investment in infrastructure can contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, as it leads to improved access to services like health and education, generates employment and enhances a country’s ability to trade while reducing the costs of goods and services. Good infrastructure also makes it easier for economic actors to do business and helps to improve environmental conditions.

Making transport work

A significant proportion of Commission development funding is used to help partner countries improve their transport systems.

Good quality roads, railways, ports and airports are essential for the smooth running of many key economic sectors in the developing world including agriculture, industry, mining and tourism. Efficient transport infrastructures can also improve the delivery of and access to vital social services, such as health and education.

The Commission aims to help partner countries improve transport as a means of achieving the broader goals of reducing poverty, sustaining economic growth and stimulating social development. There is no doubt that improved transport infrastructure will also help developing countries to integrate into the global economy.

To achieve its aims, the Commission works in partnership with country stakeholders and other aid donors. The goal is to make improvements that meet local needs in a safe, affordable and efficient way, and that has a minimal impact on the environment.

Regional support

Between 1995 and 2006, the Commission spent almost €6.5 billion on 682 transport projects, mainly in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. Indeed, the ACP region received about 80% of the development aid funds allocated by the Commission to improve transport.

Most of this money was committed to improving road transport in ACP countries. The aim of the investment was to support economic growth and provide sustainable solutions, especially through road maintenance schemes.

In the Neighbourhood region, the Commission has created the Neighbourhood Investment Facility to support investments projects for infrastrcutures in sectors such as Transport, Energy, Environment and Social Issues (e.g. construction of schools or hospitals). These countries also benefit from Commission investment through other regional programmes such as TRACECA and from national indicative programmes.

Commission interventions in the Asian and Latin American transport sectors have been quite limited. Funding is mainly targeted at improving roads in both regions, although some cash is being spent on air transport in Asian countries.

Bridging the digital divide

The ‘digital divide’ refers to the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in the information society. The EU is working to narrow this gap around the world.

To bridge the digital divide requires closing the information technology gap between developed and developing countries, as well as reaching those who risk being left behind by the uneven proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing countries.

ICTs are playing an increasingly influential role in reshaping trade, growth, employment and production in large parts of the world. They present unprecedented opportunities to combat poverty by increasing income and opening markets, thereby contributing to the attainment of wider development goals. ICTs can also help improve access to health, education, information, communication and more.

Essential tools for this to occur are the proper functioning of the vectors of communication, without market distortion and border restrictions. This means that attention needs to be paid to the ICT institutional and regulatory framework in order to liberalise telecommunication facilities, promote investment in the sector, develop harmonised incentives and foster regional integration. This will also help lead to the development of technical and regulatory standards, the promotion of transparency, and the emergence of regional centres of excellence for training.

From 1995 to 2006, the EuropeAid invested some €300 million in ICT-related activities, mainly targeted at African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, as well as Neighbourhood regions.

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Last update: 15/01/2014 | Top