A 360 approach to building climate resilience into the road sector

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Girl on the Sanetti Plateau, Ethiopia | Image: Rod Waddington, Flickr Girl on the Sanetti Plateau, Ethiopia | Image: Rod Waddington, Flickr

Climate change has significantly increased the frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as flooding, erosion, and landslides, also referred to as “geohazards.”  These events pose a growing threat to transport infrastructure in many developing countries.

Ethiopia, with the second largest population in Africa and a rapidly expanding road network of 144,000 km, is among the most vulnerable. Geohazards can result in significant loss of human life and cause extensive damage to transport infrastructure.

In the most severe cases involving less frequent but more intense geohazards, the primary concern is to prevent potential loss of life and property, minimize damage to infrastructure, and ensure continuity in the provision of public and private services.

When it comes to higher frequency, lower impact geohazards such as landslides and flash floods, proper planning remains vital, but it is often overlooked in transition and developing economies like Ethiopia.

Improving the resilience of the road network against all types of natural hazards can not only reduce the direct impact of disasters but is also one of the most effective ways to ensure communities can bounce back quickly.

Photo Credit: Gully Erosion on Route 1 Ziway-Hawassa and Route 6 Adama-Dodola, by COWI, 2018
Photo Credit: Gully Erosion on Route 1 Ziway-Hawassa and Route 6 Adama-Dodola, by COWI, 2018

Drawing on extensive international experience, the World Bank’s “Resilience of the Ethiopian Roads Network” project was designed specifically to address these issues. With the support of the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund (KGGTF), this project developed a pathway to build climate resilience into the road network and provided valuable experience on how to leverage international experience to achieve these objectives for developing countries. The project helped protect the country’s road infrastructure against natural hazards through three key deliverables:

  1. Vulnerability assessment of the core road network

Ethiopia is quite vulnerable to climate change, experiencing rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Assessing the vulnerability of critical road infrastructure is a critical step toward ensuring the government to invest scarce funding strategically in road improvement, and toward building climate resilience into the network. 

Focusing on selected corridors and bridges, our project allowed the Ethiopian Roads Administration (ERA) to prioritize resilience measures by identifying those roads that are particularly vulnerable to climate hazards, the available alternative routes under various climate scenarios, and resilience enhancement plans at these vulnerable locations if no alternatives exist. The analysis looked at four types of climate hazards — flooding, erosion, landslides, and increase in temperature — for 10 road corridors with a total length of 1783km, and also analyzed the vulnerability of 39 bridges. This study advised to further apply load limit enforcements and enhance the asset management system by building the capacity of engineers.

  1. Development of mitigation measures and action plans

Building on this initial assessment, our study lays out several key policy recommendations for enhancing the climate resilience of Ethiopia’s road network. These include:

  • Strategically investing in maintenance to prevent massive maintenance backlog in the future
  • Improving the quality of the infrastructure and climate data through an improved Road Asset Management system
  • Weaving in climate safety factors in road designs
  • Increasing the network redundancy to reduce socioeconomic losses.

Based on this, we worked with ERA to develop practical action plans that covered the four stages of Prevention, Preparation, Response, and Recovery.

  1. Establishment of an integrated Knowledge Management System for the Ethiopian Roads Administration (ERA)

The capacity of the institution to effectively implement the recommended climate resilience strategies has a huge impact on the eventual outcome — which is why our project paid special attention to knowledge exchange and capacity building. 

Through the support of KGGTF, 10 professionals from the ERA management team traveled to Korea in July 2019 for a knowledge exchange seminar. The delegation had the opportunity to learn from Korea’s valuable experience with many aspects of transport resilience, including transport system development, road network planning, road financing, land acquisition and management, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and the use of digital technologies, etc. This knowledge was then disseminated further across ERA through internal workshops and conferences.


Photo credit: Ethiopian Roads Administration
Photo credit: Ethiopian Roads Administration

Institutional knowledge on climate resilience may fade with time and changes in the workforce. A Knowledge Management System (KMS) can provide a safeguard and close this loop. The project supported the development of an institutional Knowledge Management System that enables the authority to efficiently identify, generate, organize, store, share, and manage its knowledge products.

With these sequential activities, this project led to the improved climate resilience of the road infrastructure in Ethiopia, enhanced the institutional capacity for assessing road network vulnerability, created awareness and implementation capacity for climate resilience strategies, and enabled organizational knowledge sharing and learning mechanism through the establishment of the integrated knowledge management platform. Importantly, it also provided a number of important lessons for other countries that are looking to strengthen their road infrastructure facing the changing climate.

Acknowledgement: The authors would like to thank the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund (KGGTF) for supporting this project, with guidance and collaboration from Hyoung Gun Wang, John Hosung Lee, Eun Joo Allison Yi, Maria Marcela Silva, and Haileyesus Adamtei.


Wenxin Qiao

Transport Specialist, World Bank

Bezawit Tesfaye

Bezawit Tesfaye (Beza) is Transport Specialist of the World Bank

Stephen Muzira

Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank

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