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What the heck is infrastructure, anyway?

Liberia, November 17, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The jeep bounces hard over deep ruts, and strains to get a grip though thick, slick, sloshy gullies of mud. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps
  • 
  <span class="field-credit">
    Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The cars they use here seem held together with gum and duct tape. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps

When Mercy Corps talks about rebuilding infrastructure in a country ravaged by war, the words can sound abstract. What the heck is infrastructure?

Think of it as the body of a country: the roads are like bones, the electrical grid is like muscles, the communication and water systems are like veins and nerves. Each one gives the body an ability: to move, to work, to speak and listen, to make things happen. In Liberia, it's a body that's sorely damaged and gravely dysfunctional.

This is what happened to Liberia's roads after 14 years of conflict. This is not a remote village track. It's the main road to the villages of Gbarpolu County, in the north. The jeep bounces hard over deep ruts, and strains to get a grip though thick, slick, sloshy gullies of mud.

As I bump up and down, I think about how SUVs in the U.S. are used to haul groceries and get the kids to soccer practice. Here, an SUV would be genuinely useful. But local people don't have them. The cars they use seem held together with gum and duct tape.

People here say that road repair is a number-one priority. It's essential to all their goals and projects. In order to build anything, do anything, you have to be able to get there. I'm glad that Mercy Corps is helping to repair the roads and bridges that allow villagers to get their goods to market.

There's much more we can do to help bring this body back to life, so the Liberian people can get where they want to go.