Every year, corrosion costs about $3.4 trillion globally, not including the cost of lives and jobs. This adds up to 3 to 4 percent of the world's GDP, the economic cost of which is six times the sum lost due natural disasters such as typhoon and floods as per a Chinese study.
One example of the impact of ignoring corrosion is the collapse of the bridge in Italy earlier this year. 43 lives were lost when the Morandi Bridge, a key artery linking Milan and France collapsed. Four decades ago its designer, Riccardo Morandi had written a report recommending constant maintenance because of sea air and pollution would cause rust and erode away concrete, which would leave it vulnerable. His fears were well founded.
Since the bridge collapse other countries have been auditing the status of their bridges. France, for example, has over 800 bridges that present a risk of collapse in coming years and need to be closed down. The audit predicted that by 2037, 62 percent of its roads will be “very degraded", and 6 percent of bridges would be “out of service".
Pakistan's twin deficits are groaning under the weight of the surge in infrastructure in the last few years. Bridges and underpasses have sprung all over Karachi and several roads have been dug up for on-going Greenline project. Corrosion inspection and maintenance is not part of the calculations despite Karachi being a coastal city and having high levels of pollution.
A ballpark figure for cost of corrosion inspection and maintenance is roughly one percent of the cost of building the infrastructure. While small in terms of percentage, the cost adds up to millions of dollars a year. Between lack of awareness and penny pinching, adverse impact of corrosion are pushed aside while the country rejoices in higher GDP growth rates brought about through higher public spending.
NACE International, a global body established as a corrosion authority, recently held a seminar in Karachi. This seminar was the first of its kind without any representation from the government. In India however, such seminars are an annual event with the eleventh one being held this year. Two ministers and high ranking army officers attended the seminar in India while NACE has had no interactions with the government in Pakistan.
Given that the impact of corrosion is ignored even in developed economies, one wonders about the status of infrastructure a few decades on. Without government officials being aware of the need for maintenance, construction today could become a menace tomorrow.