Getting around a new assignment location may pose a serious and dangerous challenge if the municipal infrastructure for roadways and public transportation is poorly maintained or driving conditions prove dangerous. Add to that difficulty the unreliability of utilities, and one's daily routine can be fraught with inconvenience.
ORC Worldwide, in conjunction with Control Risks Group, analyzes the status of local conditions in dangerous or difficult host locations. When evaluating the existing infrastructure, the location evaluation reports focus on the following key elements:
- The availability, quality, and reliability of telephone and postal systems; electricity, gas, and water supplies; Internet services; and basic communal services (e.g., public transport)
- The quality and extent of the road system, the degree of traffic congestion, and the degree to which it is inadvisable for an expatriate to drive
- The quality and availability of banking services, including ATMs and credit card use
Of the cities analyzed by ORC, Lagos, Nigeria has earned the highest level, indicating the worst infrastructure problems.
Getting Around Is a Challenge
Located on Nigeria's southwestern coast on the Gulf of Guinea, Lagos comprises four major islands and four areas of the mainland connected by bridge and causeway. Lagos is the country's largest city and industrial and commercial center, as well as the largest city in Africa, with a population estimated at more than 11 million. According to the National Geographic Atlas of the World, the city population, which was estimated at 300,000 in 1950, will increase to a projected 18 million by 2010. As a result of its explosive growth, the country has been unable to keep up with the necessary infrastructure.
Consequently, the road system cannot cope with the traffic. Congestion (or, as they call it locally, "go-slow") is particularly bad during morning rush hour, at lunchtime, early evening, and Friday afternoon. Compounding the problem are hazardous driving practices and bad road conditions - some of which become impassable during the rainy season and its associated floods. The city's bright yellow damfou buses are dangerous and unsuitable for expatriates, with taxis risky, too. With traffic accidents commonplace in Lagos, the safest practice for expatriates, followed by most, is to hire a local driver.
Utilities Are, at Best, Unreliable
Electricity services in Lagos are extremely poor, and acute fuel shortages often leave large parts of the city without power. Public water services are also poor, prompting most foreign companies to truck in water for their workplaces and employee residences; home water tanks are necessary, as are backup generators.
Telephone service offers domestic phone lines of very poor quality, with a long time for phone installation. As many houses do not have regular service, a cell phone is essential. However, while cellular service is more reliable than a landline, even these connections can be patchy due to network congestion. Internet services are widely available and generally adequate, but those that provide access over phone lines run into the same problems that plague the phones.
As for the other services, postal delivery is not dependable, prompting expatriates to generally use a private courier for important documents. And while service at most major foreign banks is adequate and becoming more efficient, banking service still tends to be bureaucratic. Opening a new account at a local bank can take a long time. In addition, due to the prevalence of fraud, it is inadvisable to use ATM and credit cards.
Get the Facts Before You Go
As world economies continue to develop, expatriates are relocating more often to difficult host locations with on-site conditions that sometimes make routine matters a daily challenge, testing the family's ability to cope. With the help of reliable and accurate knowledge of the local situation, expatriates can address problem areas ahead of time and minimize potential surprises on arrival.
Erin Mannix, based in New York, is a location evaluation specialist for ORC Worldwide.