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Ending the Isolation of Rural Ethiopia at a Historic Pace

Mareshet Abera

10-18-15

The Ethiopian economy has continued a remarkable expansion with the gross domestic product (GDP) growing by an average 10.9% in the past decade, compared to a 5.4% average throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, as reported last year, Ethiopia has now become the 7th biggest economy in Africa and the 69th biggest economy in the world with a 118.2 billion USD GDP PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) for 2013. That is over 9 billion USD growth from the previous year’s and was hailed as a remarkable annual growth particularly for an economy without oil, gas, or significant minerals and much ahead of many notable countries.

The foundation of this success is commitment and clarity of vision. Indeed, the facts on ground demonstrate that development, particularly poverty reduction, is the primary agenda of the state. The provision of basic services, expansion of infrastructures and increasing productivity are all geared toward achievement of the country’s developmental objectives. The impressive economic and social progress achieved over the past decade is a compelling evidence of the success of these effective and pragmatic policies.

The best demonstration of the prudence and commitment of the government is its deliberate focus and success on the road sector that is paying off by expediting the socio-economic progress. The government managed to put more than 99522 kms, by 2014, which is a huge leap from 26,550Kms in 1996/97. The length of asphalt roads increased from 3,708 in 1996/97 to 12640 in 2014, Gravel road from 12,162 in 1996/97 to to 14217 in 2014 and rural roads from 10,680 in 1996/97 to 33609 in 2014.

As a result, today, the proportion of federal and regional roads in good condition far outweighs the proportion of roads in fair and poor condition. For the road user this means an extended, better built and maintained road network. For the rural population it means secured access to greater resources and opportunities in the way of better markets, faster access to health services, lighter transport burdens, and more employment.

Indeed, roads are the backbone of a country’s infrastructure and the frame of a country’s economic development. They support growth in agriculture and industry, open corridors, port links and tourism areas, and connect each region to the rest of the country. Roads also furnish access to internal markets and social infrastructure such as schools and health centers.

In the context of Ethiopia’s geography, pattern of settlement and economic activity, transport plays a vital role in facilitating economic development as 95% of the movement people, and goods is still carried out by road transport. In particular, it is road transport that provides the means for the movement of peoples and agricultural products from rural areas to urban areas and movement of industrial goods, modern agricultural inputs and peoples from urban areas to rural areas. Road transport also provides a means for the utilization of land and natural resources, improved agricultural production and marketing, access to social services, and opportunities for sustainable growth.

The government of Ethiopia has placed increased emphasis on improvement of the quality and size of road infrastructure in the country. To address constraints in the road sector, mainly low road coverage and poor condition of the road network, the government formulated the Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) in 1997.

A well functioning road network is crucial for the economic growth of  Ethiopia.  The main linkages between transport and economic growth are evident , among others, in two key areas, in the existing socio-economic scenario: The size of the country, its structure of production and population distribution  and the cost to the economy of an unreliable and  deteriorated network.

First, the pattern of settlement and economic activity in the country gives transportation a strategic role in economic development.  Ethiopia has more than 1.1 million sq. km territory with a widely dispersed population. Agriculture, accounting for half of the GDP, is dominated by smallholders scattered in small rural communities, while the major markets and the processing and collection centres for crops, as well as the distribution points for agricultural inputs and fuel are concentrated in urban centres located at considerable distances from each other and from the ports.

Growth in agricultural output, which will constitute the primary basis for growth in the economy for the near future, is dependent on the transport system being able to efficiently integrate the rural communities with the urban centres; and facilitate reliable and cost-effective transport of export crops from the major collection points to the ports.  These two roles have not been efficiently performed by the road transport system; development efforts are hampered as a result.

Second, Ethiopia's road infrastructure, which is crucial to the linkage of rural communities to the urban areas, has deteriorated markedly over the last decades.  The state of the regional roads, two thirds of which are virtually impassable, imposes significant penalties on agricultural activity through its effect on vehicle operating costs, delayed evacuation and damage to crops.  As a result, the cost to the economy has become enormous.

Nonetheless, the road sector had been neglected by the previous regimes. In the 1991, when the military regime was defeated, the road density in Ethiopia was among the lowest in Africa and other developing countries, with an estimated 21 km of road per 1000 square km and 0.43 km per 1000 population.

At the end of the 1980s, the road network in Ethiopia consisted of 23812 km of trunk, major link and regional roads. Out of 8180 km of the trunk roads, approximately 3478 km were paved and 4702 km have gravel surfaces.  The major link roads constituted about 7589 km; mostly gravel surfaced with only 178 km of paved surface. The standard of the approximately 8043 km of regional roads varied considerably because of the absence of a national coordinated sectoral developmental direction. As a result, there had been thousands of kilometres unclassified, low standards, earth (dry weather) tracks and trails.

Further, the road network had deteriorated a lot to the extent that only 11 percent of the paved roads and 19 percent of the gravel roads were in good condition. In comparison with other developing countries, Ethiopia had one of the worst road conditions. There were 7589 km of major link roads that are part of the national highway system.  These roads linked the trunk roads with agricultural production areas, processing plants, mining area, tourist attractions, hydroelectric power stations and generally areas of high economic activity.

After EPRDF assumed governmental power, and following the launching of the Transitional period economic program, a major policy change was taken with regard to the road transport sector. The government, in recognition of this crucial role of the road sector had set out a Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) to speed up the improvement and expansion of the road network.

The Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) provided a comprehensive approach of integrating the implementation of key road investments with major policy and institutional reforms. Accordingly, the following major goals had been defined for the RSDP: (i) Improving transport operating efficiency and reducing road transport costs for both freight and passengers so as to encourage production, distribution and export. (ii)Providing access to rural, other neglected and food deficit areas to support efficient production, exchange and distribution throughout the country and exploit the utilisation of the vast natural resources of Ethiopia that are unexploited. (iii) Developing institutional capacity of the road sub-sector at central and regional levels.

The Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) was formulated in such a way that it would deal with the issues of competing investment demands between restoring the existing network and extending the network into areas currently not served by roads. An optimum investment allocation between the two was the fundamental consideration of the program; since the road network is limited in terms of both coverage and quality.

Both the figure for road density per thousand sq. km and no. of km per one thousand population were well below the continental mean for Africa. Thus, the necessity to extend the road network to support the development effort of the country was beyond doubt.  Nevertheless, at the same time preventing the existing road network from further deterioration and improving the existing scenario of road maintenance and rehabilitation was the only way of achieving a sustainable road program.

Between 1997 and 2002, through the first Road Sector Development Program (RSDP I), a total of 8709 km of roads were rehabilitated, upgraded, constructed and maintained of which 2709 km of roads were federal roads, 6000 km of roads were regional roads. During RSDP I, 7.3 billion birr was disbursed of which 5.5 billion was on federal roads and 1.7 billion birr was on regional roads.

With regard to the federal road network, 975 km of trunk roads were rehabilitated, 549 km of trunk and link roads upgraded and 928 km of new link roads were constructed during RSDP I. In parallel with these works, a total of 257 km of heavy/emergency maintenance work was carried out on federal paved and gravel roads. Physical and Financial performance against plan during RSDP I was 98% and 74% respectively. In addition, detailed design studies, design reviews, feasibility and EIA studies were undertaken for a number of pipeline road projects.

In 2002, by the end of RSDP I, achievements were registered in improving rural accessibility and condition of the road network. The road network of the country increased to 33,297 km in 2002 from 26550 km in to 1997. As a result, Road density per 1000 sq. km increased to 30.3 km in 2002 from 24.1 km in to 1997. The proportion of the road network in good condition increased to 30 % in 2002 from 22% in 1997. Table 6 provides a summary of the accomplishment of the RSDP I.

Between 2002 and 2007, in the course of the second Road Sector Development Program (RSDP II), a total of 12,006 km of roads were rehabilitated, upgraded, constructed and maintained of which 7483 km of roads were federal roads, 4523 km of roads were regional roads. During RSDP II, 18.1 billion birr was disbursed of which 14.7 billion was on federal roads and 1.8 billion birr was on regional roads.

With regard to the federal road network, 970 km of trunk roads were rehabilitated, 1,702 km of trunk and link roads were upgraded and 612 km of link roads were constructed during RSDP II. In parallel with these works, a total of 4,199 km of heavy/emergency maintenance work was carried out on federal paved and gravel roads.

The regional authorities managed to construct and maintain 4,523 km of rural roads, disbursing around 1.8 billion birr. In addition, 58,114 km of community roads were constructed by Woredas, with an expenditure of 1.4 billion birr. Table 7 provides a summary of the accomplishment of the RSDP II.

Physical and Financial performance against plan during RSDP II was 141% and 113% respectively. Performance of RSDP II was remarkable as physical performance was much higher than plan and financial performance was also higher than plan.

In 2007, by the end of RSDP II, achievements were registered in improving rural accessibility and condition of the road network. The road network of the country increased to 42,429 km in 2007 from 33,297 km in 2002. As a result, Road density per 1000 sq. km increased to 38 km in 2007 from 30km in 2002. The proportion of the road network in good condition increased to 49 % in 2007 from 30% in 2002.

Between 2007 and and 2010, under the third Road Sector Development Program (RSDP III), a total of 19,250 km of roads were rehabilitated, upgraded, constructed and maintained of which 7996 km of roads were federal roads, 11,254 km of roads were regional roads. During RSDP III, 34.9 billion birr was disbursed of which 31.4 billion was on federal roads and 2.4 billion birr was on regional roads.

With regard to the federal road network, 344 km of trunk roads were rehabilitated, 2,723 km of trunk and link roads upgraded and 1603 km of link roads were constructed during RSDP III.

In parallel with these works, a total of 3,326 km of heavy maintenance work was carried out on federal paved and gravel roads. Regional governments managed to construct and maintain 11,254 km of rural roads, disbursing around 2.4 billion birr. In addition, 42,270 km of community roads were constructed by Woredas, with an expenditure of 0.9 billion birr. Table 8 provides a summary of the accomplishment of the RSDP III. Overall physical and financial performance against plan during RSDP III was 93% and 101% respectively.

In 2010, by the end of RSDP III, achievements were registered in improving rural accessibility and condition of the road network. The road network of the country increased to 48,793 km in 2010 from 42,429 km in 2007. As a result, Road density per 1000 sq. km increased to 44.4 km in 2010 from 38.6km in 2007. The proportion of the road network in good condition increased to 56 % in 2010 from 49% in 2007.

Between 2010 and 2014, through the fourth Road Sector Development Program (RSDP IV), a total of 70,197 km of roads were rehabilitated, upgraded, constructed and maintained of which 10,970 km of roads were federal roads, 19,355 km of roads were regional roads and 39,096 km of roads were URRAP roads. During four years of RSDP IV, 120.5 billion birr was disbursed of which 90.4 billion was on federal roads and 8.5 billion birr was on regional roads and 21.2 billion was on URRAP roads.

With regard to the federal road network, 439 km of trunk roads were rehabilitated, 3631 km of trunk and link roads were upgraded and 3,184 km of new link roads were constructed during RSDP IV. In parallel with these works, a total of 3714 km of heavy maintenance work was carried out on federal paved and gravel roads.

The overall physical and financial performance against plan between 2010 and 2014 was 78% and 121% respectively. The achievements registered in improving rural accessibility and conditions of the road network were enormous. The road network of the country increased to 99,522 km in 2014 from 48,793 km in 2010. As a result, Road density per 1000 sq. km increased to 90.5 km in 2014 from 44.4 km in 2010. The proportion of the road network in good condition increased to 70 % in 2014 from 56% in 2010.

Overall, the last two decades of road sector development has brought significant improvements in the restoration and expansion of Ethiopia’s road network. Physical achievements have been matched by significant improvements in the condition of the network, strengthening of the management capacity of the road agencies and delivery on policy reform.

A total of 110,162 km of major physical road works excluding routine maintenance was carried out of which 29,155 km was on federal roads, 41,132 km was on regional roads construction and maintenance and 39,096 km was on URRAP roads. Overall physical accomplishment against plan was 86%. Total disbursement was about 180.9 billion birr and this disbursement was 113% of the plan.

With regard to federal roads, 2,728 km of rehabilitation of trunk roads and 8,604 km of upgrading of trunk and link roads and 6328 km construction of new link roads were carried out under the program. In parallel with this, heavy maintenance on 11,496 km of federal road was also carried out. Table 10 shows summary of performance of RSDP over the past seventeen years.

In the discussion of the Ethiopian road sector development, its major component the Universal Rural Road Access Program (URRAP) deserves a mention. The program was launched in 2010 envisaging connecting all Kebeles by standard and affordable all-weather roads that provide year round access. Within five years period, it was planned to construct 71,523 km of all-weather roads throughout the country at an estimated cost of more than 40 billion birr. The full-fledged implementation of URRAP will ensure close to 80% of the total rural population year round access to road. The program is fully financed by the government of Ethiopia.

In 2010, during the first year of implementation, which was largely a year of preparation, only 854 km of roads were constructed. Some of the preparation works were even extended to the next budget year in some regions. Though the preparation work took more time than anticipated, it has laid the foundation for the success of the program and same is reflected by the promising performance being observed recently.

Nonetheless, major preparatory activities have been carried out to effectively implement URRAP. More than 7369 Low Volume Roads Design Manuals were distributed to all Regions, Woredas, and consultants involving in URRAP. More than 8000 small and medium capacity equipments; including tractors, trailers, towed rollers, towed graders, water tankers, fuel tankers, and pick-ups, were manufactured/assembled and distributed to Regions by Metal and Engineering Corporation. More than 1220 medium Enterprises, consultants and contractors, were developed, trained, and are involving in the program.

On top of the above, so far Regions managed to construct 39,056 km of all-weather roads, which was 70% of planned for the period and 55% of the 5 years plan. The encouraging impact of the newly constructed URRAP roads has already been reflected on the improved accessibility situation of the rural population as the average hours households have to travel to get all weather road reduced from 2.9 hrs (8.7 km) in year 2010/11 to less than 2 hours (5.5 km) in 2013/14. Despite this improvement and encouraging progress, there is a long way to go; as in four years, only 55 percent of the 5 years physical plan is accomplished.

Another important achievement of the program is the employment opportunity it is creating for the rural population. The program, reflecting the broad-based development strategy of the country, has created more than 158 thousand permanent and temporary job opportunities in the reporting year.

It is to be recalled that with the limited road network coverage, many Kebeles of the country were remained inaccessible by motorized transport & several areas inhabited by relatively large rural populations were isolated from the rest of the country. The rural road program was launched for the mission of connecting all these rural kebeles throughout the country, 15,602 in total, by all weather roads at the end of 2014/15. Detail of kebele connectivity before & after URRAP to the nearest main road is presented hereunder. Table 13 shows level of Kebele Connectivity

Maintenance is also given the proper attention. The two important inputs for sustainable maintenance and service of rural roads are finance, and most importantly institutional arrangement and capacity. On this regard there is clear and shared direction that the roads will be owned by the respective Woreda Road Offices. As far as the maintenance modality is concerned, the Woreda road office, whenever possible, mobilizes the community for routine maintenance while allocatess budget for periodic maintenance, which may be handled by contractors. The maintenance booklet is another step ahead for ensuring sustainable maintenance.

This has two fold implications: one thing it creates sense of ownership on the community and another it drives the effort to build the capacity at Woreda level as it will no more be an option. The investment and road asset at Woreda level fairly justifies any capacity building initiative at that level.

The commitment of the government in the road sector was shown not only in the effective planning and execution of the projects but also in its financing. An assessment of contribution of finance to the implementation of the Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) shows that 78.8% came from internal sources (the government, the Road Fund and the Community). The remaining 21.2% has been pooled from the international community. Specifically, the share of the government of Ethiopia is the highest (69.4%), followed by Road Fund (7.7%), the IDA (7.3%) and EU (4.5%). The overall disbursement over 17 years of Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) is about Birr 180.9 billion (USD 12.2 billion).

The impact of this on the lives of the people and the overall economy is incalculable. In general, since Road Transport is the dominant mode of transportation in Ethiopia accounting for some 95% of motorized passenger and freight movements, the road sector development has an important contribution to the robust economic growth that the country achieved over the last decade or so. Globally there are empirical results indicating that Road Investment’s alleviate poverty. Affordable access and adequate mobility of people and goods, principal Road Investment outcomes, together with other socio-economic improvements, many believe, are key to improving quality of life, notably in developing countries like Ethiopia. Because there are concerns globally and in the country as well, there is also a contention that road Investment and the attendant improved access to transportation alone may not be sufficient to reduce poverty or eradicate absolute poverty, albeit it is assumed that it is a critically important input to alleviate poverty.

Accessibility, measured in terms of average distance from the road network and proportion of area farther than 5 km from an all weather road, shows that substantial progress has been made in expanding the road network. Specifically, due to the construction of new roads, the average distance from a road has been reduced from 21km in 1997 to 5.5 km in 2014. The proportion of area farther than 5 km from an all weather road, which was 79% in 1997, has been reduced to 40.5% in 2014.

The Rural Access Index measures Isolation, which is a key characteristic of poverty. Improved road access offers for the rural poor the ability to reach, visit or use services effectively and also contributes to the country’s economy and development. Therefore, Rural Access Index, RAI, calculates the number of rural people who live within two kilometers (typically equivalent to a walk of 20-25 minutes) of an all-season road as a proportion of the total rural population.

The average RAI for the whole country is currently around 50%, a significant improvement when compared to 13% in 1997.

Increase in mobility is another indicator. An assessment of traffic on the main roads reveals a rapid and continuous increase in the volume of motorized traffic. Vehicle kilometer of travel increased from 3.8 million to 16.3 million in 2013, showing an average annual increase of 11%.

As one World Bank expert testified:

“rural people have now access to all-weather roads, which has led to a reduced transport burden, women’s empowerment and improved agricultural incomes. These outcomes are the result of combined contributions by government, investing in regional rural roads, and development partners in restoring the main road network.”

Indeed, as the CIA World Factbook underlined last year:

 “Once again, the right policies outlined by the government and the ruling party are proven to be working. The credit for such sustainable high growth rate goes to all hard working public servants, specifically, to the late Premier Meles Zenawi, who was the architect of the economic reforms.”

 


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