Why Human Resource Development Matters in Infrastructure Projects

Intermediate cities in Pakistan are developing quickly but in an uncoordinated, unplanned, and unregulated manner. Photo credit: Cities Development Initiative for Asia.

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Integrating capacity building and human-centered interventions into the preparation of infrastructure projects helps cities meet sustainable goals.


Pakistan is one of the most urbanized countries in South Asia. Punjab, which is home to about 110 million, is its most populous province. Along with rapid urbanization comes challenges brought about by the increase in demand for urban infrastructure services and by aging infrastructure, which hamper economic growth and human development in the area.

The Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA), a multi-donor trust fund managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), conducted a pre-feasibility study in 2019 for the ADB-supported Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Project - Phase II (PICIIP-II). The project will address infrastructure gaps in water supply, wastewater, drainage, solid waste management, and the urban renewal of the cities of Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, and Sargodha. Infrastructure development measures, when integrated with a sound capacity building program and other human development measures will ensure more impactful and sustainable results for the proposed infrastructure investments.

Urbanization and Infrastructure Challenges

Cities form the economic, social, and innovation backbone of Pakistan. They generate the majority of wealth and are home to about 40% of the population. These cities, particularly the intermediate ones, are developing at a fast rate, and this has led to the rapid expansion of urban areas but in an uncoordinated, unplanned, and unregulated manner.

Major infrastructure and services in most of the intermediate cities, like water supply, wastewater collection and treatment, stormwater drainage, solid waste management, and road networks, are deteriorating and increasingly unable to respond to population pressures and economic demands. For example, only 40.7% of the urban population in the country has access to safely managed drinking water and only 58% of the total population is using improved sanitation facilities. Also, residents are suffering from a severe lack of open spaces and civic amenities. 

Compared with other Asian countries where the focus is often on attracting large businesses to provincial capitals, Pakistan creates the vast majority of urban jobs through small and medium firms that rely heavily on the collective resources of urban infrastructure and services in the intermediate cities. 

All these points to the need for major investments in critical infrastructure and services to make cities more livable and for sustainable economic development.

Although budgets are considered the principal constraint for each of the four PICIIP-II cities, additional financial resources alone for infrastructure development is unlikely to resolve all these urban problems or build the cities’ resilience to cope with and respond to immediate and future challenges.

Human-Centered Interventions for Sustainable Infrastructure

Equally important to consider is a range of human development interventions that should go hand in hand with the cities’ engineering measures. Institutional strengthening and capacity building for staff and agencies implementing the projects; instilling a service-orientated culture in the cities; a deeper appreciation for environmental issues; social equity between women and men; and a steadfast commitment from the government to address the needs of the poor and marginalized populations are all essential ingredients toward achieving the cities’ aspirations of a robust and inclusive growth.

In the past, the four cities suffered from lack of planning documents and technical skills to implement responsive programs. There was weak participatory governance, and agencies were operating in silos. There was no appropriate attention to the role of the poor in city development nor was there a deep understanding of the need to pursue climate actions and build resilient systems, and responsive processes and infrastructure. Moreover, the cities’ tariff schemes, tax issuance, and collection systems were inadequate. These challenges have resulted in inefficient management of urban services and their inability to respond to shocks and stresses. Infrastructure continued to deteriorate as municipal talent sought other opportunities to supplement their low salaries.

Integrating Capacity Development in Early Project Preparation

CDIA saw the need to pursue meaningful human development reforms alongside technical improvements in engineering infrastructure and worked with the Pakistan government to conduct a pre-feasibility study to: (i) assist the four cities prepare integrated urban-resilient, 15-year infrastructure investment programs focusing on the water supply, wastewater/storm water drainage, and solid waste management sectors together with specific street/open space measures designed to improve the livability of the cities; and (ii) prepare the identified priority sub-projects to pre-feasibility level, including outline design.  

A team of CDIA experts also reviewed and assessed the institutional capacities and financial aspects of the four cities and related institutions in the management of the urban infrastructure projects and services. Their in-depth analysis led to the preparation of a capacity building and institutional development road map that outlines targeted activities to be implemented in the short-, medium-, and long-term horizons. Due consideration was given to capacity development needs, including institutional, organizational, and individual/human resource challenges in the cities and their related institutions. These activities will ensure that the resulting projects can be successfully implemented, and the infrastructure constructed can be financially sustainable and properly operated and maintained without further external assistance.

CDIA further delivered the following key outputs to address gaps in infrastructure and the limitations in technical and financial management of implementers:

(i) Introduction of integrated, strategic urban planning and accompanying institutional management and delivery systems;

(ii) Improved urban-resilient infrastructure framework that supports consensus-based, negotiations-driven city visions and holistic and inclusive growth prospects. Expected results include the following:

  • improved access to water, wastewater collection and drainage management, solid waste management, and safer contaminated disposal services for all city residents;
  • reduced water and airborne disease; and
  • improvement and expansion of parks, and cityscape investments that instill a sense of urban pride.

(iii) Particular attention to Katchi Abadis (low-income urban areas) in order to improve urban services, especially water supply and solid waste management in poorer areas;

(iv) A reorientation of agencies toward treating citizens as customers of essential urban services;

(v) Citizen engagement and participatory planning and budgeting processes at the local level; and

(vi) Strengthened business processes (including longer incubation periods, process optimization, operational efficiencies, and cost effectiveness) of all urban utilities.

CDIA conducted a workshop to discuss how improving urban resilience will affect the development of infrastructure projects from "business as usual." Capacity development sessions were also held specifically on wastewater and water supply infrastructure options and technologies, wastewater types and the corresponding treatment processes, and the suitability and sensitivity of the project’s location to the design and hence the cost of the project.

With a deeper understanding of urban resilience, city officials and the project team were more particular about project components, technology solutions, and the rationale for their adoption. They were keen to ask what went wrong in past projects and what they could do better to avoid failure.


Structural or hard infrastructure measures are not the only solutions to urbanization problems and to realizing city development goals. Attention should also be given to the human aspects of infrastructure development. 

The pre-feasibility study provided a blueprint for the investment program under PICIIP-II, which contributes to the realization of SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Proposed measures include improving drainage systems to minimize flooding, enhancing wastewater collection and treatment to reduce health risks, reusing treated wastewater for irrigation purposes, applying lagoon processes/solutions to wastewater treatment plants to reduce costs and climate risks, and improving access to safe and sustainable water supply to help the cities cope with cyclical droughts.

With the combined infrastructure and human development interventions, the cities of Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, and Sargodha will soon be on the road to making their cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.


Asian Development Bank. Pakistan: Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Project (Phase 2).

Cities Development Initiative for Asia. Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement (Phase II).

Cities Development Initiative for Asia. 2019. Final Report: Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Project (Phase II).

Devex International Development and City Cancer Challenge. 2021. Accelerating Progress toward the SDGs through City-Led Initiatives.

Brian Capati
Urban Development Specialist, Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA)

Brian Capati is a municipal engineer with more than 15 years of experience in construction and project management. He joined CDIA in June 2014 and has since managed 22 project preparation studies in the sectors of water supply and sanitation, flood and drainage, solid waste management, and urban renewal in 11 countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA)

Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) is a multi-donor trust fund managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). As a project preparation facility, it helps secondary cities in Asia and the Pacific prepare bankable and sustainable infrastructure investments. It receives funding support from Austria, European Union, France, Germany, Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund.

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