June 18, 2014
My last project in China before transferring the Europe and Central Asia in 2008 was the Yichang-Badong (Yiba) expressway. This was a US$ 2.2 billion expressway through some very challenging terrain, including the ‘Three Gorges National Park’. The following key statistics summarize why it was so special:
- 172 km of expressways and 35.4 km of interconnecting roads
- 148 bridges for a total length of 70 km
- 75 tunnels for a total length of 61 km
- 3.75 million m3 of earthworks
- US$ 12.6 million/km
With challenging terrain, over 70% of the expressway consisting of tunnels and bridges (with the longest tunnel some 7.5 km long), the Hubei provincial government were concerned about the potential negative environmental impact of the project on such a sensitive area. These concerns were echoed by some at the Bank who I recall saying ‘why on earth would you want to put an expressway through a national park’ …
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June 11, 2014
At the beginning of June I was invited to help lead a tour to China by the World Bank’s ‘Environmental Community of Practice’ (COP) which would be visiting the Hubei Yiba Highway Project. This was a major 172 km long expressway which I prepared for the Bank in 2007/8. It traversed a very environmentally sensitive area and my team and I put great efforts in trying to minimize the negative environmental impacts.
I was grateful for the opportunity to revisit China and see the project as I considered it to be one of the highlights of my professional career. To be able to escort over 100 environmental and social specialists from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Australian Aid, Japan, Korea and China to the project was an added honour as it would give me the opportunity to share a number of the unique innovations on the project. I’ll do a separate write up later on the project and what I found…
It was wonderful to catch up with old colleagues, but I was particularly humbled by the generosity of the Hubei Provincial Communications Department who gave me (and later the team) a special award for our contributions. I felt it was very undeserved since all we had done was to give the Government the best advice and support we could to achieve their vision.
The award gave me pause to think about the meaning of doing one’s job. After all, if all one is doing is what one is asked to do, then why the award? This led to reflections on the ethical obligations we have as engineers towards our clients and society because all my team and I were doing was fulfilling our duty to help as best we could. So I’m going to be a bit reflective here and share some thoughts on the issue of ethics and the engineer. Not a best selling subject, but an important one to all engineers.
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June 2, 2014
On May 28, 2014 the World Bank’s Board approved US$12 million in funding for the ‘Tonga Cyclone Ian Reconstruction and Climate Resilience Project’—or TCIRCRP. Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a transport specialist. So what is a transport specialist doing leading a project to rebuild a community of 5,500 devastated by a cyclone? Well, on one level it all started in October when I felt impressed to a course on disaster management and recovery. In the Pacific Islands we regularly have disasters and I wanted to expand my understanding. It was really interesting and I hoped that one day I would be able to learn more.
Who would have thought that less than three months later I’d find myself in a zodiac boat visiting outer islands in Ha’apai—and bailing like mad to make sure that the boat didn’t sink! That was the start to a journey which has tasked me professionally, physically and emotionally beyond any other in my career at the Bank. But one which will have the greatest on the ground impact for people—which is why God has brought me to the Bank in the first place.
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December 22, 2013
The World Bank has what we call ‘Safeguard’ policies which call upon us to minimize and mitigate the negative environmental and social aspects of our projects. When working with the government designing the Tuvalu Aviation Investment Project we had an issue with building a fence around Funafuti runway. There is a serious problem with dogs on the runway endangering aircraft so ideally we should put a fence around the runway. However, this is the only large open area on the island and is a centre of recreation. In the end we decided that the negative impact of a fence from a social point of view was too great and are working with the government to have other mechanisms to control dogs.
I was interviewed on this issue by a Dutch team who were there doing a documentary on football—two Tuvaluan players are in Holland. They sent me through the video below which shows the challenges we face really well. Note the dog running across the screen as the plane lands!
August 28, 2013
Calvin and Hobbes is a cartoon strip which is the greatest comic strip of all time. Like man of its aficionados, I was saddened when it’s author Bill Watterson retired. I have the full collection and have read and re-read them many times. And continue to do so today. I am really looking forward to the upcoming documentary ‘Dear Mr. Watterson’. Check out the trailer below.
Bill gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College which, as would be expected, is very profound. From this, the author of Zen Pencils has created the excellent cartoon below. Words of wisdom we should all reflect on. I know that I for one have been truly blessed with my career. While working at the World Bank is really challenging, it offers me the personal and professional opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives in ways that few other jobs could. Very rewarding and fulfilling—and one which allows me to live my values. The best job in the world, except for the extended periods I’m away from my wife Lis. Even the best job can have a high price …
April 6, 2013
Most people think of the South Pacific as a land of sunshine, beaches and palm trees … which it is. But there is a much darker side to South Pacific: disease. The countries are suffering from an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The attached chart came across my desk the other day and it paints a very distressing picture. Compared to other lower middle income countries, we are significantly higher for NCDs with both women and men.
The accompanying report noted that “Each of the 10 countries in the Pacific for which data is available have 60% or more of the adult population overweight, and in six countries more than 75% are overweight. In four countries in the Pacific at least half of the adult population is obese”. Some 70% of all deaths are NCDs, and life expectancy is falling. Given the precarious nature of the government finances in the Pacific, this is a disaster and a real development challenge. Much harder than building infrastructure!
April 2, 2013
You know that your job takes you to out of the way countries when your current work places represent 20% of the list of the ‘25 Least Visited Countries in the World’. These are (in descending order) #19 Tonga; #18 Timor Leste; #11 Solomon Islands; #4 Kiribati and #3 Tuvalu. Quite the contrast to a few years ago when I worked in China (the third most visited country).
The author also has an interesting perspective on Tuvalu. Quite fascinating to see how things that look so normal to me are noteworthy to a first time visitor. He forgot to mention that it is probably one of the only countries in the world with absolutely no credit card facilities. If you forget your cash you’ve got problems…