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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Adaptation and flexibility in infrastructure for development: Water, wastewater and electricity in Argentina

Infrastructure underpins sustainable development and the attainment of the SDGs. Infrastructure systems can also lead to profound environmental impacts, to increased vulnerability and, due to the long-lived nature of the assets, to technical lock-in. The traditional focus on large projects is being increasingly challenged, as small-scale decentralised solutions allow the development of adaptive and flexible technical and social systems. The debate between centralised and decentralised solutions echoes the trade-offs between the paradigms of sustainability and resilience. Although some frameworks have been devised to integrate both agendas, the influence of different stakeholders’ priorities has not been explored and research has largely focused on developed countries. This dissertation explores whether decentralisation can be preferrable over large-scale projects for the water, wastewater and electricity, sectors in Argentina. This is achieved by using an Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) to compare alternatives for a case study under the criteria of resilience, the three pillars of sustainability and systems thinking, and by analysing adaptive strategies for two further case studies. Semi-structured interviews with stakeholders guide the weighing of the criteria in three different scenarios. The results reflect that there is a significant mismatch between development priorities for government officials, utility operators, and social movements. A heavy emphasis on economies of scale and institutional lock-in were found to discourage decentralised solutions, but the multi-level governance and the continuous exposure to recurrent economic crises are drivers for the adoption of adaptive and flexible solutions. This dissertation is expected to provide policy makers a new perspective on infrastructure that is both sustainable and resilient.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.