ITRC brings “system-of-systems” infrastructure modelling to Palestine

Oxford-led consortium in UN collaboration to improve infrastructure planning in the West Bank and Gaza.

Last year, researchers at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute highlighted the destabilizing role of drought in the Syrian crisis and the increased likelihood of such events as a result of anthropogenic climate change. The research was the latest to draw a link between water scarcity and conflict in the Levant – a key characteristic of the current tense relationship between Israel and Palestine. The Occupied Palestinian Territories face restricted access to both water resources and the energy needed to power water infrastructure. This problem is further compounded by their limited means to operate and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure, a situation made worse by the continued conflict. To add to these difficulties, infrastructure development in the region is largely piecemeal, characteristic of ad hoc, donor-driven investment, which often overlooks infrastructure interdependencies. For example, much-needed water infrastructure is currently under construction in the Gaza Strip, including a wastewater treatment plant and a desalination plant, without any guarantees of sufficient electricity to power these plants on completion.

It is such difficulties that a new collaboration between the UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services), and the Oxford-led ITRC (Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium) seeks to overcome. Over the past 5 years, the ITRC has developed a series of national-scale systems models to support the planning of interdependent infrastructure in the UK, further detail of which can be found in “The future of national infrastructure: a system-of-systems approach”, recently published by Cambridge University Press. This system-of-systems approach considers distinct but interconnected networks such as energy, water, telecoms, and waste-management, helping to plan long-term national infrastructure investment in a more coherent and robust manner. The approach has already demonstrated its worth in the UK through the ITRC’s collaborations with Department of Transport, National Grid, HM Treasury’s Infrastructure UK and more recently with the new National Infrastructure Commission led by Sir John Armitt.

ITRC is now applying its innovative tools and methods to the international context starting, with this UNOPS collaboration in Palestine. The work will provide the necessary evidence and analysis to develop a national infrastructure master-plan for the Palestinian Authority, improving infrastructure project prioritization, guide donor investment and make better use of its assets and resources currently at their disposal. It is hoped the research will strengthen the resilience and effectiveness of infrastructure systems in the West Bank and Gaza, establishing a stronger platform for economic development in the face of continuing climatic, political and socio-economic change. While the collaboration may not resolve the entrenched conflict, it is hoped that it will help alleviate some of the underlying conditions that might trigger unrest and hostility.

The Palestinian case study is expected to be the first phase of a longer-term engagement with UNOPS, who hope to roll-out the ITRC approach to other post-disaster, post-conflict areas in the coming years. Similar applications of the ITRC modelling processes and platform are also in the works for more developed countries including Dubai and China.


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