Challenges in integrating social development and infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Challenges in integrating social development and infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean

The region of Latin America and the Caribbean is afflicted by a number of contradictions that require the implementation of complex and comprehensive actions to resolve social, economic, institutional and environmental problems. There is still a high level of inequality that hinders access to basic rights and limits technical development and competitiveness.

Meanwhile, economic and social growth leads to an increase in energy demand. Many factors indicate that this demand will increase by up to 50% in the next 20 years. In the mid-term, energy from fossil fuels will continue to correspond to a significant chunk of energy consumption. That said, this does not guarantee sustainable or strategic development of the region.  

As such, the development of infrastructure is an essential step towards economic and social development that is not only sustainable and inclusive, but also more equitable. However, it should not be considered an end in itself. Access to energy, water, housing and transport should be understood as a means to boost social development and foster better living conditions. Therefore, infrastructure projects should respect and adapt to the actual needs of the population instead of pursuing a purely economic aim.

More than a decade ago, following the drafting of the Millennium Development Goals, the relationship and convergence between water, energy and food began to take shape and disseminate. This link refers to the interconnection between the security of water resources, energy security and food security. Therefore, the impact on one of these areas, be it positive or negative, is going to influence and condition the other two.

The adequate supply of water is essential for hygiene, health and food safety, and implicates and affects women in particular. This goes for energy too, which constitutes a key socio-economic factor in both the domestic sector, as well as in the production of goods and services.  A large proportion of the population is currently lacking modern energy, particularly affecting poor people in rural areas.

A comprehensive approach to navigate the complexity of these variables must primarily take into consideration that energy, water and food infrastructure should be focused on social development. To this end, it is important to strengthen mechanisms for transparency and control over companies and institutions, implementing clear rules and allowing citizens to take part and access information. Furthermore, it is important to support and provide social protection to those in a vulnerable position, offering empowerment and full access to the development of infrastructure and technology. Public policies aimed at promoting equality enable and foster greater access to education, technical development, and competitiveness, and strengthen the capacity to create quality employment.

In short, Latin America and the Caribbean have the opportunity to develop and promote long-term sustainable strategies; however, the region must tackle the challenge of taking the institutional lead in the transition towards a sustainable model. To this end, it is crucial to foster shared decision-making between the public sector, private companies, civil society organisations and the citizens, acknowledging the disparities present and incorporating the aim of achieving social development and minimising inequality throughout all phases of the project. 



Acquatella, J. (2008). Energía y cambio climático: oportunidades para una política energética integrada en América Latina y el Caribe. Santiago, Chile: ECLAC. Available at:

Perrotti, D. E., & Máttar, J. (2014). La planificación como instrumento de desarrollo con igualdad en América Latina y el Caribe: tendencias y desafíos. Serie Gestión Pública, 80. Santiago, Chile: ECLAC. Source:

Samaniego, J., Galindo, L. M., Alatorre, J. E., Ferrer, J., Schneider, H., & Perrotti, D. E. (2016). América Latina y el Caribe: integración para el desarrollo sostenible. Desarrollo e integración en América Latina. Santiago: CEPAL, 2016. LC/G. 2674. pp. 127-180. Available at:


Recommended links

Energy and Mining Section, World Bank (In Spanish)

Energy Section, Development Bank of Latin America (In Spanish)

Energy Section, Inter-American Development Bank (In Spanish),,19009.html

Natural Resources and Infrastructure Section, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

Inequality Calculator for Latin America (In Spanish)

World Energy Scenarios 2017, World Energy Council (In Spanish)

Sustainable Energy for All – SE4ALL

Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations (In Spanish)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE) 

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