FEATURE STORY March 28, 2018

Infrastructure Gaps Vary across East Asia and the Pacific - and between Cities and Rural Areas

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Workers build a road in Vietnam.

World Bank


The Status of Infrastructure Services in East Asia and the Pacific, a new report by the World Bank Group's Infrastructure, PPPs, and Guarantees unit (IPG), shows in detail the infrastructure gaps that are critical for the region's economic growth.

Singapore, March 28, 2018: Lack of clean water facilities, roads in need of repairs, recurring power outages – these are the realities of many developing countries, including in the East Asia and Pacific region. The Status of Infrastructure Services in East Asia and Pacific, a report by the World Bank Group’s Infrastructure, PPPs, and Guarantees unit, or IPG Group, based at the Hub for Infrastructure and Urban Development in Singapore,  shows in detail the infrastructure gaps that are critical for economic growth.

The findings reflect the composition of the region, a diverse mix of high-income and low-income economies with several large middle-income economies. Infrastructure access is also marked by fragmentation, with notable differences between low-income and high-income ASEAN countries, between ASEAN and the Pacific Islands countries, and between rural and urban areas.

These distinctions inform the three broad groupings with respect to access: highly advanced and well-equipped countries, such as Singapore and South-Korea; a semi-advanced group which includes middle-income countries, such as China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Fiji; and countries with less access, such as Myanmar and most of the Pacific Islands, excluding Fiji and Samoa.

Initiatives are underway to crowd in more private financing in infrastructure investment, as part of the World Bank Group’s efforts to maximize finance for development. Currently, public finance remains the largest source of funding for infrastructure development. In East Asia and the Pacific, private participation in infrastructure investments have recovered to pre-1997 Asian financial crisis levels, but they still account for a fraction of total infrastructure investments. In China in 2015, for example, private investment amounted to less than 1 percent of total investment in transport, energy and water.

Attracting more private investment will require regulatory reforms that impact the investment climate, and also business models that ensure returns. Currently, revenues from service tariffs in many East Asian and Pacific countries do not cover the costs of production. In several ASEAN countries – notably Indonesia, Vietnam, and Philippines – average unitary revenues from electricity tariffs do not cover the marginal cost required to generate electricity, let alone to distribute and transmit electricity to users. Only China, Malaysia, and Thailand are operating at general cost recovery levels for electricity production.


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World Bank


The following are the report’s additional key findings:

  • With the exception of Fiji and China, on average water utilities cover their operating costs by tariff revenues. This does not imply, however, that current water revenues are sufficient to cover the capital costs required to expand service or rehabilitate existing infrastructure.
  • Among the countries with available information, only the Philippines, South Korea and Cambodia reported operating cost coverage ratios above two, which would allow water utilities to make capital investments to expand and maintain their infrastructure.
  • Singapore has the most developed infrastructure services, with 100 percent access to electricity, piped water, and sanitation.
  • Though strong economies, Malaysia, Thailand, and Fiji require more infrastructure development. Road infrastructure in rural Malaysia remain lacking, as are urban sewerage facilities in its cities. Water treatment and urban sanitation services in Thailand and Fiji can also improve.
  • The Pacific Island states – particularly Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and the Solomon Islands – report low levels of access and quality of infrastructure services. In ASEAN, Cambodia and Myanmar are in most need of broader access to all services.
  • Access to electricity is relatively broad. Outside of the high income countries, EAP’s cities have 86 percent coverage for electricity, while rural access stands at 65 percent.  However, nearly 60 million people still lack access to electricity, particularly in the Philippines, Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
  • Among the Pacific Island countries except for Fiji and Samoa, access is defined by the urban-rural divide. Electricity access in Vanuatu’s cities is 100 percent, but only 11.5 percent in rural areas.
  • While access to improved water sources is relatively high in the region, access to piped water supply is low. Only Malaysia and high income countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore have extensive access to piped connections for residential areas. In low-income ASEAN countries and Pacific Island nations that comprise the third tier, overall household access levels for piped water are only 20 to 30 percent – and only 8 percent and 9 percent in Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, respectively.
  • Piped sewerage connections in cities are limited, with significant differences between economies. Access rates in the cities of some countries are ten times lower than rates in more developed economies, and only high-income economies enjoy full access to urban piped sanitation systems. Cambodia, Malaysia, and Timor Leste also have better access to urban sewerage, at 44 percent, 42 percent, and 18 percent, respectively.  
  • Elsewhere in the region – even in the cities – coverage for piped sewerage are at single-digit levels.

For more details on the findings, please read this blog on infrastructure pricing by one of the report's authors.

The summary of the report will also be featured in the upcoming April edition of the East Asia and Pacific Economic Update.


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