Miranorte is a small town in the State of Tocantins, northern Brazil, well-known for its pineapple production. During the rainy season, the production cannot reach the markets due to the obstruction of the roads with the water flow. In many places, the roads lack bridges and culverts, jeopardizing both safety and accessibility.
In order to address these challenges, the World Bank’s Multisector Project in Tocantins (2012-2019), which includes a rural road component, decided to hear firsthand from the community about their priorities for development and inputs in the selection of roads that needed improvement. Aside from a practical and transparent approach, the consultations compensated for the lack of information required for conventional planning.
Tocantins, as many places in the world, doesn’t have any traffic data, information on road conditions, or even maps of the rural road network available. Although IT technologies are emerging and the importance of these data for management of road assets is evident, it is often time-consuming and costly to survey all the rural road network, especially in a state like Tocantins, which is larger than the United Kingdom.
In the Andean mountain range in the province of Arequipa, women can be found working on rural road maintenance projects.
Meanwhile, back in the capital, members of Peru’s local and national government, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, gathered in Lima at the “Experiences of Women in Rural Roads” conference to discuss the role of women in the transport sector.
The event highlighted women’s participation in rural road construction and maintenance as a significant step toward gender equality: it gave participants a chance to discuss the impact of these projects, share lessons learned, and inform a Gender Action Plan for the ongoing Support to the Subnational Transport Program. Indigenous women from rural communities in in Arequipa, Junín, Huánuco, and the Amazon attended the event and emphasized the importance of these projects in the development of their communities and the role of these employment opportunities in their own lives, their self-esteem, and their aspirations for a better future.
Since 2001, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Peruvian government have worked together to promote women’s participation in rural transport projects, expanding employment opportunities for women in rural areas. The Peru Decentralized Rural Transport Project has seen the female participation in rural road maintenance microenterprises reach almost 30%.
Coming to completion in May 2018, RRCDP has improved road access to markets to at least 11 project Chiwogs (hamlets) in Samtse and Trongsa Dzongkhags – building 22.9 kilometers of farm roads and benefitting about 299 households. With the construction of new farm roads, the most commonly marketed agricultural and livestock products amongst farmers in project areas have been cardamom, vegetables, butter, cheese, and citrus, and to a lesser extent, rice, potatoes, and eggs. Additionally, beneficiaries have also reported a significant reduction in the time of travel between their households and markets – up to 8 hours in some cases! The majority of the Bhutanese population live in remote rural areas – hours, sometimes days of walking from the nearest road. They walk their children through dense forests and rivers to reach schools and health clinics; they carry their agricultural and livestock products to nearby markets on their backs – an average load of 30kg. A horse carrying a 50kg load costs approximately Nu.5 per kilogram.
The project has also supported beneficiaries in 88 Chiwogs with access to community and marketing infrastructure, such as power tiller tracks, power tiller machinery, and food bridges – with a total of 3,597 households benefitted. In Norgaygang Gewog, for example, with support from the project, the construction of 4 kilometers of power tiller track in 2016, has brought multiple benefits to the community, such as easier access to schools and healthcare in case of emergency.
In the early 1990s, Colombia’s road infrastructure was a maze of poorly maintained roads and bad highways. Difficult geography—the Pacific coast jungle and the Andes branching out into three chains—made it harder to improve road conditions and connect isolated communities. Conflict, corruption, and short-term political priorities contributed to the problems plaguing Colombia’s road system. But just as influential were the problems with the nation’s existing concession contracts that had wrong incentives, created opportunities for renegotiating signed contracts, and assigned unproportioned demand risk to the Government of Colombia.
Women maintaining roads? As their job? Until recently, the idea was pretty much unfathomable in many countries. But in Peru, it isn’t. Since 2001, the Peruvian government and the World Bank have been working hand in hand to ensure female workers can play an active role in the routine maintenance of rural roads. This is part of a broader effort to reduce the gender gap in rural areas, and to improve women’s access to social and economic opportunities.
Over the last two decades, a series of ambitious projects have allowed the rehabilitation 30,000 km of rural roads, and supported maintenance activities along 50,000 km. This type of large-scale road projects has created significant economic and employment opportunities for local communities, and this is why we wanted to make sure women could get their share. To make this happen, we organized trainings, developed specific programs that would improve women’s access to resources, and worked to eliminate the barriers that disadvantaged women (e.g. requirements related to literacy or previous construction experience). The result? In 2013, female participation in rural road maintenance microenterprises reached 27% during the Peru Decentralized Rural Transport Project.
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Bridges are critical links in the transport network. In their position across waterways, they are exposed to the full effects of flooding and landslides, and are often the first pieces of infrastructure to be damaged in the event of a disaster. They also typically take weeks or months to repair. Besides causing expensive damage to the infrastructure itself, disruptions in connectivity also have a much broader impact on economic productivity and people’s ability to access essential services. As many places are expected to witness more intense and frequent rainfall as a result of climate change, the risk to bridges will only worsen: more rainfall will lead to bigger river flows and more damage to bridges, especially those designed to handle smaller storms.
At each end of a bridges is a structure which supports the weight of the deck. These are known as abutments, and they are often the first part of the bridge to fail. Blockage of the main channel by debris can cause water to look for the path of least resistance around the sides of the bridges, thus placing the abutments at risk.
Traditional bridge construction requires the installation of piles for the foundations of abutments—a lengthy and expensive process that involves specialist materials, skills and equipment.
But there is another promising solution: Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) abutments. These allow for rapid and resilient construction of bridge abutments using locally available materials, without specialized equipment. With GRS, bridges can be constructed in as little as five days (Von Handorf, 2013) and at a cost 30-50% lower than traditional approaches (Tonkin and Taylor, 2016) .
GRS abutments are based on ‘geogrids,’ a high density mesh made out of polyethylene (plastic). Layers of soil and geogrid are combined to create a solid foundation for the bridge deck. Construction can be completed with basic earthmoving and compaction equipment, and a range of local fill materials can be used with guidance from geotechnical specialists.
India is in the midst of implementing PMGSY, a $35-billion national level Rural Road Program designed to provide basic road access to rural communities. The World Bank is supporting PMGSY through a series of lending operations ($1.8 billion in Bank funding) and significant knowledge support. A key element of the Bank’s support has been to integrate a “climate and green growth lens” into these efforts in cost-effective ways.
How is “green growth” benefiting India? One important dimension of that effort has been the use of environmentally optimized road designs, which has resulted in quality infrastructure using local and marginal materials, providing both economic and environmental benefits. Where available, sand deposits accumulated from frequent floods, industrial by-products, and certain types of plastic, mining, and construction waste have been used to good effect. Designs that use such materials have been about 25% cheaper to build, on average, than those requiring commonly used rock aggregates. The environmental benefits of using the above materials, in terms of addressing the big disposal problem of such materials and reducing the consumption of scarce natural stone aggregates, are as significant as the cost savings.
A second “green growth” dimension has been focusing investments on the “core” network, i.e. the network India needs to develop in order to provide access to all villages. Relative to a total rural road network of about 3.3 million kilometers, the core network that falls under PMGSY stretches over only 1.1 million kilometers. Prioritizing construction and maintenance on those critical road links will bring down costs as well as the associated carbon footprint.
For remote rural communities in mountainous Bhutan, survival hinges upon access to roads and markets.
Since 2003, the Royal Government has built over 1,500 kilometers of farm roads and narrower, lower-cost “power tiller tracks” to help communities, which subsist mostly on agriculture, connect to the larger population, and improve their incomes and standards of living.
For farmers in the Pokri Dangra village in Samste Dzongkhag, a new track has brought more benefits than expected and significantly improved access to markets and services and reduced the cost of trading goods with other local communities.
Roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses. By linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda. Since 2002, the World Bank has constructed or rehabilitated more than 260,000 km of roads. It lends more for roads than for education, health, and social services combined. However, while roads bring economic and social benefits, they can also come with social costs such as pollution or deforestation. The Amazon rainforest is crisscrossed by almost 100,000 km of roads—enough to circle the Earth two and a half times. And the transport sector accounts for about 23 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and a significant share of local particle pollution. Such tradeoffs need to be weighed when planning any intervention.
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.