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Empowering local women to build a more equitable future in Vietnam

Phuong Thi Minh Tran's picture

Vietnam’s economic emergence is perhaps best experienced along its rural roads: more than 175,000 kilometers of pavement, rubble and dirt track extend to two-thirds of the country’s population, including nearly all of the poorest people, who live among its productive farms, lush forests and meandering river valleys.

In recent years, road investments in Vietnam’s rural areas have improved socioeconomic development and promoted gender equity, social participation, improved school attendance, and more inclusive health services to impoverished regions. However, all but a few hundred communes remain off-grid, and infrastructural roadblocks and bureaucratic potholes have delayed the goal of a fully integrated road system.

The World Bank’s Third Rural Transport Project (RTP3) supported a win-win solution: employing ethnic minority women to sustainably manage road maintenance through an innovative participatory approach to local development. This blog entry describes the experience of improving the roads — and women’s lives — in rural Vietnam. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way:

Lesson 1: Solutions can come from unexpected sources.
The RTP3 task team’s investigation showed that up to a third of the population in Vietnam’s Northern Uplands provinces would be expected to contribute up to 10 percent of their total annual household expenditure to ensure safe passage along local roads — too much for most to afford. Furthermore, even when adequate resources are made available for maintenance, contractors have sometimes been unwilling to work in inaccessible regions for fear of mudslides during the rainy season.

Want dramatic road safety results? Look to South Korea.

Nak Moon Sung's picture
When looking to improve road safety for children around the world, it is clear that the experience of South Korea has valuable lessons to offer.

To start, the numbers speak for themselves. In 1992, 1,566 kids (14 years old and under) were killed in road crashes in South Korea. By 2014, children deaths dramatically decreased to only 53, the equivalent of an almost 97 percent reduction over that period of time. No other country that we know of has experienced such a remarkable reduction in only 22 years.
Decreasing road fatalities in South Korea, 1990-2015

What made this achievement possible?

Although there isn't a single answer, the evidence shows that comprehensive policies played a crucial role in reducing children deaths due to road and traffic injuries.

Changing lives along the road in Honduras

Marcela Silva's picture

We arrived in the village of La Redonda-El Aguila, Honduras at ten o’clock in the morning, when the temperature was already about 94 degrees Fahrenheit. We were warmly welcomed and invited to take a short walk to the place they had prepared specially for us to hold our meeting. We were offered bean tamales and coffee, and began the meeting with members of two road maintenance microenterprises that are supported through a World Bank-financed project.

The microenterprises program was launched in 2013 under the Second Roads Rehabilitation and Maintenance project with a goal of creating 10 microenterprises to maintain 310 kilometers (192 miles) of roads. The routine maintenance work includes cutting and clearing vegetation on both sides of the road to ensure good visibility, cleaning drainage systems, keeping the roads free of debris and occasionally patching holes in the road. Microenterprise members earn wages from their work, which they invest into their households and communities.

Each microenterprise is supported by a supervisor, usually a civil engineer, who teaches members how to do the road maintenance work efficiently and effectively. Additionally, members learn how to meet conservation standards, as well as gain understanding of why maintenance activities are so important to extend the life of the road. The supervisor performs a progressive evaluation and on-the-job training for all micro-entrepreneurs. Upon completion of the training, the microenterprise is granted a contract to carry out labor-intensive routine maintenance activities over a stretch of road (at a ratio of about three kilometers per partner) for a period of 12 months, which is renewable subject to satisfactory performance. 

Ultimately, the program empowers entrepreneurs to become permanent contributors to the conservation of their roads. 

Do better roads really improve lives?

Eric Lancelot's picture
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How can improved roads change peoples’ lives? How much do people benefit from road projects? Answering these seemingly simple questions is, in fact, much trickier than it appears.

We recently concluded an impact evaluation to measure the socio-economic impacts of World Bank-financed municipal road improvements on poor rural households in the state of Tocantins, Brazil. After 10 years of study, what were the results and lessons learned? And how did we go about conducting the evaluation?

The study followed a methodology traditionally used in impact evaluations in the social sector and was based on a precedent in Vietnam. Throughout the state, one of the least-developed and least-populated in Brazil, most municipal roads are unpaved with inadequate maintenance. The World Bank’s municipal roads project helped construct 700 concrete bridges and 2,100 culverts crossing rivers and streams, providing year-round access to remote populations that once couldn’t access municipal centers during rainy season.

The anticipated result chain of the project was as follows: improvement of physical accessibility would contribute to increase travel demand to markets, schools and health services. This would, in turn, contribute to improved education, better health and increased business opportunities. Finally, it would result in long-term household income growth.

Our study aimed at measuring these impacts through a “difference in differences with matching,” a method that compares a treatment group (population benefiting from the interventions) and a control group (population that does not), while ensuring similar socio-economic characteristics (or comparability) between groups. An “instrumental variables estimator” was then used to confirm the robustness of the results.

The results show positive socio-economic impacts to rural residents, as well as provides for several policy implications:

Small changes, big savings: Innovation at work on Indian roads

Ashok Kumar's picture
One of the key issues in transportation is the ability to get both the wonderful advantages that a new road brings to a village, while being cost effective and environmentally and socially responsible. For example, when a village in India finally gets a paved road, life becomes freer, safer, and more prosperous. A new road that connects a rural village opens the local economy to new opportunities.

​Additionally, farmers can travel farther to sell their produce and get better prices, children can go to schools more easily and, migrants who go elsewhere to work can come back to their families. For many years, this transformation was limited to larger villages. Until the year 2000, only about 300,000 Indian villages — half of the total amount of villages — had a main road. In recent years, state and federal governments have grown increasingly ambitious and are now working towards the goal of providing road links to even the smallest of villages.

Roads and the Environment: Lessons from the Yiba Expressway

Chris Bennett's picture

My last project in China before transferring to Europe and Central Asia in 2008 was the Yichang-Badong (Yiba) expressway. This was a US$ 2.2 billion expressway through very challenging terrain, including the ‘Three Gorges National Park’. 
It was massive—as evidenced by the following:

  • 172 km of expressways and 35.4 km of inter-connecting roads
  • 148 bridges for a total length of 70 km
  • 75 tunnels for a total length of 61 km
  • 3.75 million m3 of earthworks
  • US$ 12.6 million/km
Faced with these challenges, including the longest tunnel of 7.5 km, the Hubei provincial government was concerned about the potential negative environmental impact of the project. These concerns were echoed by some at the Bank who I recall saying ‘why on earth would you want to put an expressway through a national park?’

The answer was quite simple. The expressway was going ahead with or without the World Bank’s involvement. The Hubei government wanted the Bank to assist them in making the project an example of how to construct an expressway through an environmentally sensitive area with minimal impacts. Management fully supported this and I was tasked with helping realize this vision, although unfortunately I was not involved with the implementation.

Let’s make transport the solution!

Virginia Tanase's picture

This seems to be a good time to stop blaming transport for all the World’s snags and start looking for simple ways of maximizing the benefits of this tool. Yes, you read it right: transport is a tool, for itself it does not create but adds value to goods and services moved where they are needed.

Building Climate Resilience into Timor Leste’s Roads

Chris Bennett's picture

The only thing worse than taking 5 hours to drive 106 km along winding and often damaged mountainous roads, is the realization that having reached your destination you have to turn around and repeat the trip to get home. That was in the forefront of my mind as I sat in the very quiet town of Ainaro, south of the capital in Dili.

In Ethipia all roads lead to development

Anna Barbone's picture

In the 1990s, the government of Ethiopia knew that a major expansion of the road network was a sine qua non for its development goals―namely, (a) advance the private sector; (b) upgrade and expand essential infrastructure; and (c) conserve the environment.