chapter  9
24 Pages

9 Rural roads: the challenge of decentralized implementation SIMON D . ELLIS AND AURELIO MENENDEz

The objectives and nature of rural road infrastructure and transport services Transport accessibility represents a key factor that influences livelihood conditions and opportunities. The time distance to reach social services or markets affects the possibilities of receiving adequate health care or education and of bringing products to markets or opting to a range of labor prospects. The literature on transport access as a necessary element (though not sufficient) for the reduction of poverty and the induction of productive development is varied and extensive, and it encompasses situations in both urban and rural settings. This chapter focuses on rural settings and discusses the dimensions that are necessary for the appropriate provision of transport access to and from rural communities and the division of responsibilities between national and sub-national (local) entities.1 The importance of rural accessibility in the reduction of poverty and access to essential social and economic services is reflected by one of the International Development Association’s (IDA) core indicators which is the percentage of the rural population who live within 2 km of an all-season road. Figure 9.1 shows a transformed map indicating the extent of the rural inaccessibility is particularly acute in Africa and South Asia. Rural transport consists of the rural roads-the infrastructure-and the services provided to transport people and products between rural communities and market facilities. The definition of “rural transport” or “rural roads” is not the same across countries. The term can be defined as the set of infrastructure or services that are provided to facilitate the access to and from rural communities, usually on roads of reduced standards, of widths of up to six meters that allow traffic in both directions but at moderate speeds of less than 50 km/hr. These roads usually represent the last link of a network of roads categorized by the type and level of service they can provide and the size of the communities or cities they connect. Primary or national roads are the backbone of the road network, linking the major urban centers and generally paved to support traffic that includes trucks of all sizes and weights (up to the maximum allowed by the law) and of high volumes (requiring in some cases roads with two or more lanes in each direction). The so-called secondary roads flow into the primary network and connect medium-sized communities or the last links of the tertiary or rural networks. The secondary roads have the standards for traffic of medium weight and, depending on the stage of development of the country, can be to a greater or lesser extent paved. Most countries also have a network of district roads (sometimes combined with rural roads) which link the secondary roads to district centers. The rural roads are the last links that connect the more distant rural communities to the medium-sized cities, secondary and district roads. These roads carry low volumes of traffic and are often unpaved or sealed with a thin bituminous surface. As indicated before each country has a slightly different categorization of the roads; all represent the capillary channels through which people and products move around and facilitate the social interconnections and economic interchanges. Table 9.1 shows a classification in a selected number of

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countries and highlights the challenge for managing the rural road network which often represents over 60 percent of the network but typically carries less than 20 percent of the traffic. Enhancements to rural accessibility often take place in the form of improvements to the infrastructure through the upgrading of road conditions, improvements to surface conditions, and reconstruction of structures such as bridges and draining systems. These enhancements are then expected to encourage users to provide more, better, and safer transport services, through the incorporation of vehicles of higher standards and more frequent scheduling of those services. The upgrading can also help in facilitating the use of non-motorized transport (bicycles or rickshaws) or motorcycles, which are cheaper to acquire and can provide the level of accessibility for certain activities in rural areas. The basic premise is that improved roads will encourage lower transport costs through the use of more efficient vehicles (e.g., head loading to bicycles, pick-up trucks to trucks, or just the more efficient use of existing vehicles). These lower transport costs then promote more competitive and productive rural economies and improved access to essential social services. The number of studies that have demonstrated the benefits from improved road conditions and enhanced accessibility has expanded over the years as it was seen that reduction in poverty and, particularly, extreme poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) required access to health and education facilities. Much of the initial work on rural roads and poverty reduction was carried out in the 1980s and 1990s with work that focused on the impacts of improved roads on household incomes, agricultural production, and wage rates (Howe and Richards, 1984; Gannon and Liu, 1997). More recently the International Food Policy Research Institute has looked at the most effective use of scarce public expenditures on reducing poverty in rural areas and they have found that in projects of agricultural extension, the construction of rural roads is also the most effective way of reducing poverty in many countries, including China, India, Vietnam, and Uganda (Fan et al., 2007). Increasingly, however, there has been a focus on the broader poverty impacts of improved rural roads including on access to health and education facilities and how they affect education and health outcomes (Mu and van de Walle, 2007; Bell and van Dillen, 2011).