Lessons from Four Decades of Infrastructure Project Related Conflicts in Latin America and the Caribbean

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November 2017
Graham Watkins, Sven-Uwe Mueller, Maria Cecilia Ramirez Bello, Hendrik Meller, Andreas Georgoulias
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Harvard University, GGKP Annual Conference, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH

The paper Lessons from Four Decades of Infrastructure Project Related Conflicts in Latin America and the Caribbean examines infrastructure project related conflicts and their consequences in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The countries of LAC face a critical challenge of how to meet demands for infrastructure to supply energy, water, sanitation, transport, and communication services. If social and environmental sustainability aspects of infrastructure projects are neglected, the risks of conflict and failure increase. Through 32 interviews with sustainability officers of major LAC firms and the documentation and analysis of 200 conflicted projects across six sectors in LAC, this research demonstrates the extent to which projects have been affected by environmental and social conflicts, how the nature of such conflicts evolved over the last four decades, the strategies in dealing with conflicts, and their material implications for companies and countries.

The analysis provides substantive evidence on major drivers of conflict in infrastructure projects being insufficient planning on behalf of state and regional authorities, as well as the institutional capacity of the country the project is located in. Other dominant drivers of conflict found are lack of sufficient community benefits provided by the project, reduced access to resources, lack of adequate consultation, and pollution and environmental degradation. The work identifies the specific negative outcomes and pathways that were associated with these drivers, the resulting problems in infrastructure projects, and the effectiveness of company actions after a conflict has erupted. The paper concludes with recommendations for regional and local governments, project developers as well as project financiers.