At about 3:30am most weekday mornings, Lovelie is by the roadside near her home in Kenscoff, Haiti, waiting for a vehicle with her produce of carrots and broccoli. With luck, a ‘camion’ with sufficient room for her and her bundles will come by soon, to take her for the 22-kilometer trip to the Croix-de-Bossales market in the center of Port-au-Prince, where she has a stall. If not, she will have to take a ‘tap-tap’, informal urban public transport similar to that found in many cities of the developing world, operated by small-scale entrepreneurs using second-hand vehicles – in Haiti’s case, imported pick-up trucks from the United States, modified to seat 14 on the flat bed, with standing room for a few more.
Lovelie prefers to pay more for a camion than take a tap-tap, because the former will take her directly to the market in 55 minutes. Tap-tap operators, to maximize revenues, limit the distance they operate to no more than 5 kilometers, so she would have to change three or four times, which is not easy with her bundles of goods. But she may not have a choice, if the camions are full by the time they get to her, as they often are.
Understanding the realities of urban transport as experienced by people like Lovelie was key for the forthcoming Haitian Urban Mobility Study and the Haiti Urbanization Review, two distinct but interdependent studies developed by the World Bank’s transport and urban development teams.
On October 4, 2016, category 4 Hurricane Matthew struck the southern part of Haiti. Strong winds and rain triggered heavy flooding and landslides that resulted in 500 fatalities, along with widespread infrastructure damage and economic loss. The hurricane caused the collapse of the Ladigue Bridge, a vital asset connecting the southern peninsula of Haiti to the capital city and the rest of the country. The collapse left 1.4 million people completely isolated, making it extremely hard to deliver the aid and humanitarian assistance they needed. Overall damage and losses were equivalent to 32% of GDP, with transport accounting for almost a fifth of the total.
Haiti is among the countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters including hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes—the result of a combination of factors that include high exposure to natural hazards, vulnerable infrastructure, environmental degradation, institutional fragility, and a lack of adequate investment in resilience. In Haiti, 80% of people and goods are transported by road. First aid and humanitarian resources, often concentrated in Port-au-Prince, need to transit through congested and sometimes inaccessible roads to reach affected areas. In that context, strengthening and building resilient infrastructure is key.
Since 2008, the World Bank has supported the reconstruction of 15 major bridges and stabilized 300 kilometers of roads to enhance the resilience of Haiti’s transport network. One of the most significant innovations that came out of this effort was the adoption of standardized emergency bridges that can be assembled within 2- 3 months from pre-designed and interchangeable components.
When a disaster strikes, such as a hurricane or a major earthquake, relief efforts are often hampered by destroyed or damaged ground infrastructure, mostly roads, bridges, and railway networks. In the days following such a disaster, relief efforts hinge on air transport capacity, which only depends on a clear runway or landing sites for helicopters. First responders, who focus on saving lives, are primarily aviation units of the armed forces or law enforcement.
Almost two weeks ago, when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States, the importance of sustainable transport--which is the field I work in--really came home to me. I was in New York for a UN Working Group meeting on transport’s contribution to sustainable development—one of the priorities for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s second term.