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I will see you after the rainy season...

and this is no joke.  Some time ago, I travelled to rural Nepal to supervise joint DFID/World Bank work in improving access to remote communities. To reach the first village, Dailekh, we took a morning flight from Kathmandu and then drove for many hours. The further we travelled, the more uneven and less engineered the roads became, until the last ten miles to our destination were mere mud tracks. Night fell, the roads grew dark, and rain began to fall. We arrived safely, but learned the next day that the route we took – the only link from Dailekh to the rest of the country, was buried by a landslide.

My team and I were suddenly aware of our vulnerability and isolation – a feeling rare for us, but typical for people who live in remote, unconnected areas.

For over 1 billion people in the world, mere rain or snow results in limited or no access to schools, health facilities, other villages or markets. Rural roads in many countries are barely maintained and pose significant obstacles to rural economic development. Studies in two areas of Tanzania, for example, revealed that a major portion (on average 40 to 50 hours) of the total weekly time available to each household was spent on transport (TP-10: Rural Access Index: A Key Development Indicator, World Bank 2003). Often times, as was in this case, women are particularly overburdened, taking responsibility for about 80% of the time. In Southern Ethiopia, lack of roads means a daily trek to water wells for thousands of women and children, taking all their productive time and the education opportunities.

Physical isolation contributes to poverty and marginalization of individuals and families. We know that improving access to roads for rural populations will promote rural development, increase access to essential services, like health clinics and schools, raise incomes, and stimulate wealth creation and growth, thus reducing poverty and increasing the quality of life.

At country level, inadequate infrastructure hinders a country's productivity and economic growth. That’s why IDA supports rural roads projects, both as stand-alone projects and as components of larger agriculture or rural development projects. One example of such project is the Rural Roads Project in India. In 2000, the Indian government set out to connect all villages with more than 500 million people -- about 180,000 villages. Under the program, some 375,000 km of new roads are being constructed and another 372,000 km improved at an estimated cost of US$34 billion.

Back to Nepal. On that same trip, a whole mountain had burst into herb growing industry after a road access road was built. A market trader brought his truck every Thursday, and for the first time in their lives, these remote people had a tangible opportunity for reaching out to new markets…