On arrival, the scene inside Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, Peru, is calm and orderly. The place boasts all the amenities you’d expect from any modern airport, and with Spanish-language signs at the gates and kiosks it feels like any airport in the U.S. Anywhere except maybe New York’s LaGuardia airport, which for years has stood out for being notoriously past its prime. Inside Jorge Chávez, there are few foreshadowing signs of what’s to come once you set foot past the front entrance.
Outside, and throughout the otherwise lovely city of Lima, too many cars screech and inch aggressively into tight openings between vans and other cars, leveraging to squeeze through narrow intersections at velocities that are often too reckless for bottlenecked areas. In the background, horns blare from all directions. Even by Manhattan’s standards of traffic congestion, Lima is surprisingly overcrowded.
“Driving is a sport here,” said one of our hosts, a Bechtel South America executive named Carlos Alarco, who is also the ASME Peru section chair. The horn on an automobile, Alarco added, is so frequently used that it has lost any sort of meaning. “You don’t even notice the sound of it anymore.” Alarco must have been referring to the locals. Trust me, you can hear the honking.
Alarco shepherded a delegation from the ASME Board of Governors, and me, from place to place on a recent visit that included meetings with engineers, local technologists, and engineering students. The trip was part of a three-region focus—the others are India and China—to stimulate greater ASME participation in global opportunities and to open a broader dialogue with international stakeholders and leaders. Already, ASME is an
internationally renowned standards-setting organization with members in more than 150 countries.
Through these trips, the Board led by this year’s president, Julio C. Guerrero, hopes to gain a first-hand understanding of growth opportunities in different Pacific Rim regions of the world.
One thing that was clear on the trip to South America is that Peruvians are proud of their country. Its majestic Pacific coast and natural treasures justify the local perspective. Another thing clear is that its aging infrastructure bogs down Peru’s capital city of Lima. This is a big problem, according to engineers, business leaders, and even some U.S. officials we spoke with, because about 70 percent of the country’s population lives in and around Lima.
There is some work being done to try and alleviate the congestion. We visited a construction site in the middle of the city where a much-needed bridge is half completed. A foreman on the job told us proudly that many relevant ASME codes are being used in the construction and that, when completed, the bridge would help ease some of the traffic in an especially dense part of downtown.
A more ambitious project is a subway system that few in this city of more than 8 million people believe will ever be built. In Lima, as in many cities of both developing and First World countries, infrastructure health is at the core of economic health. Yet in Lima, as in most of the rest of the world—including LaGuardia—triage has been the most common approach to repair what ails it. Through its global outreach, ASME wants to be part of the team helping to dispense long-term solutions.