John Pasch is the Acting Director of USAID’s Office of Energy and Infrastructure. He serves as the Agency’s senior engineer overseeing USAID’s global infrastructure portfolio. He leads the development and reform of Agency engineering and construction policy and risk management practice. Mr. Pasch also directs engineering technical support to USAID overseas missions. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from Wesleyan University and a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University. Mr. Pasch is a registered professional engineer.
Building With Uncertainty
Adopting a locally grounded engineering process nets climate-responsive design
February 3, 2020
With the climate changing in fast and uncertain ways, getting the right information for infrastructure design is becoming more challenging. USAID spends over a billion dollars a year building infrastructure across our humanitarian assistance and development portfolios, so it’s important that the Agency get it right.
How the world grows, advances, and develops is (literally) built on a foundation of infrastructure. The goal of infrastructure projects is not to build structures; it is to deliver services.
Infrastructure matters to international development. How the world grows, advances, and develops is (literally) built on a foundation of infrastructure. The goal of infrastructure projects is not to build structures; it is to deliver services. Without well-built roads, smallholder farmers can’t get their crops to market. Without safe, well-built schools, children can’t learn. Without well-built wells, safe drinking water is unavailable and human health suffers. Without well-built health clinics and hospitals, medical professionals cannot deliver vital health services.
When USAID prepares for infrastructure construction, we take the same scientific approach that we always have—define the operating environment (with knowledge, data, and information) and design a solution (based on analysis, experience, and technology) to deliver services under those conditions. USAID is careful in the design process to make sure that the infrastructure we support is designed well for whatever the environmental conditions are where it needs to function. We have always done this—it's part of the engineering process – and we still do it today. We design buildings to remain resilient long into the future.
The challenge that is different in today’s changing climate is that the historic data we use can sometimes be “less predictive” of the future state we are designing for. Higher uncertainty about environmental conditions yields lower reliability of infrastructure services. To address this challenge, USAID invests in planning and analysis to prepare for our infrastructure activities. We build upon local data sets and studies to create the most accurate projection of future operating conditions. We engage local engineers in planning to provide critical knowledge and experience of site conditions, available building materials, and appropriate technology. This investment in information and knowledge helps reduce uncertainty in design, control costs, and improve reliability of infrastructure services.
While we can’t 'climate proof' our construction, we can focus on how the design process can work to get the information we need in order to build for the future.