Dounia Rarchelle is a woman trader in Bamingui, a town situated in the Northeast of the Central African Republic (CAR). Before the new bridge was built in Bamingui, she struggled to get her products to market. But now, the new bridge allows Dounia to get to market, giving her and other community members new economic opportunities. This has had a positive impact on her business. "We in Bamingui have never seen a project like this in the area. The bridge is really going to benefit the whole community," she says.
During the rainy season, the bridge would become flooded, cutting off access to health services, humanitarian supplies, and economic opportunities. The rainy season lasts from May to November, meaning that access could be cut off for weeks or even months, leaving communities isolated. “Whenever it rained, the old bridge flooded,” says Cécile Germine Mavounda, a local farmer and merchant. “It disappeared beneath the waters so was impossible to use.”
The Local Connectivity Emergency Project (LCEP), funded by a $4.9 million grant from the State and Peacebuilding Fund, allowed the reopening of a 333 kilometer (207 miles) stretch of road (Route Nationale No. 8 or RN8) between Kaga Bandoro and Ndele, as well as connecting CAR’s capital, Bangui, to the country’s northeast—an isolated part of the country that was rife with violence following a 2013 rebellion. Building the Bamingui Bridge and drainage work along the road were identified priorities.
Because the project was prepared amid civil unrest and growing tensions, as well as an ongoing humanitarian crisis and weak government capacity, working with partners was essential to the project’s success.
To support the government’s limited capacity, the World Bank contracted the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to implement the project under the Fiduciary Principles Accord (FPA), which allows a UN agency to implement the project on behalf of the government. UNOPS was selected given the general lack of state presence in the targeted area; the availability and access of UN facilities and resources on the ground; the capacity of UNOPS for rapid deployment in the area; and UNOPS’ expertise in conflict areas and infrastructure.
An arrangement with the peacekeeping forces, or the Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), also meant that UNOPS was able to leverage their presence and security support to implement the project. They were able to provide the security needed to work in a part of the country under the control of a variety of armed groups. MINUSCA also used their equipment to carry out the mechanized road works for the project.
Although the team faced several challenges in preparing the project, working in partnership with UN agencies and CSOs provided critical information. For example, the crisis and insecurity present in the project area meant that there was a lack of government-obtained data. By expanding consultations with UN agencies and NGOs on the ground, the team was able to obtain key pieces of information, such as an updated map of access constraints in the country. Also, the joint World Bank, UNOPS, and MINUSCA survey of the Kaga Bandoro to Ndele road during preparation allowed the team to identify the need for construction of the Bamingui Bridge, and overall costing of the project.
Partnering with local communities was essential to the project’s success. The project provided temporary employment—such as light maintenance activities along the road-- to vulnerable groups such as women through a transparent, lottery-based system. This approach also helped to build ownership and trust among communities and promoted social cohesion.
The new Bamingui Bridge, a 45-meter long steel structure built to withstand weather elements, has an estimated life span of 50 years. The bridge links Bamingui to Ndele, a road heavily used by MINUSCA, merchants from Sudan, South Sudan, and the capital Bangui. "The construction of the bridge has really boosted the economy… I'm selling better and my business is doing well," says Cécile.