Rural Infrastructure Maintenance

Joaquín Caraballo

It is absolutely crucial to insist on the importance of road maintenance in guaranteeing adequate rural transport services and in looking after infrastructure. Roadways must be well maintained, according to both technical and economic standards. Unfortunately the rural roadways in question are generally low quality dirt roads and sufficient resources do not exist to keep them in good condition for traffic all year round, particularly during the rainy season. This article concentrates on some strategies for making good roadway maintenance economically viable.
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Sustainable financing and management of rural transport infrastructure is one of the key challenges in delivery of effective rural transport solutions.  Rural road infrastructure is a broad term that embraces key inter-village rural roads, normally within the jurisdiction of local governments, as well as the tracks, paths and footbridges that carry village level traffic.  The network of rural local government roads in most countries constitutes about 70 percent of the total network.  This is excluding municipal or urban roads.  The network of village paths and roads – also known as community roads - are very important in maintaining rural economies and livelihoods. In general community roads are unclassified. In most developing countries, the total length of community roads, tracks, trails and paths is largely unknown, although surveys indicate it is often twice the length of the local government road network.  Most of the community network is largely used by non-motorised vehicles, pedestrians and motor-bikes and is not passable by trucks and cars for some part of the year.

Institutional options for managing rural road infrastructure

There are countries that have been able to develop a framework for management of their local level roads.  While each approach has its shortcomings, it is worth presenting the five set-ups.

Centralised model:  Involves a centralised rural road agency at the central government with oversight over rural roads on behalf of local government. This has the advantage of providing a national framework for road planning and financing, with substantial technical capacity. Examples include: Department of Feeder Roads (DFR) in Ghana, Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) in Bangladesh, Panchayat Raj Engineering Department (PRED) in many states in India, and the Rural Roads Fund in Colombia.  It has the disadvantage of centralising decision-making processes, and thus offering limited attention to local priorities.  In many countries in Africa, Governments are forming agencies specifically mandated to manage rural roads.  Rural road agencies are responsible for preparing an inventory and classifying the rural road network including important tracks.  This provides a framework for financing of the network through the usage of public funds.

Decentralised models: This provides a framework for local governments to manage roads through their own Works Departments. It has the advantage of being led by local priorities, but can be constrained by a shortage of funding, and limited access to technical capacity.

Contracting an executing agency through Local Governments. Local governments establish their priorities and contract implementation to a consulting agency. This is common in West Africa through AGETIP (Agence d'Execution des Travaux d'Interet Public) in Mali and Senegal, for example.  This model enhances efficiency by avoiding cumbersome procurement procedures.  The major disadvantage is the inherent inefficiency associated with single-sourcing.  In addition, AGETIP in West Africa also attracts donor funding which can distort its sustainability.

Establishment of Joint Services Committees (JSC) by Local Governments. Adjoining local authorities come together and establish a joint committee to coordinate development in order to overcome the problem of small networks.  This enables achievement of economies of scale.  These are common in developed countries such as Canada, Guatemala, New Zealand and the USA.

Micro-entreprises for road maintenance.  Groups of farmers from local communities are organised in micro-entreprises (often 8 to 10 people) who are trained on road maintenance.  On average, participation of women in such micro-enterprises is  30 percent.  Successful experiences are being carried out in Peru, through its rural roads programme: and in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. The main challenge lies in achieving full sustainability, as currently local governments can only cover 30% of total cost and the rest is provided by funding programmes through the World Bank and the Inter American Development bank. Technical support on labour-based intensive work is often provided to local governments by ILO PIIE:

Key Challenges in rural infrastructure management and financing

  • Determining the most suitable and appropriate standards in rural infrastructure.
  • Use of locally available materials and other local resources such as labour
  • In many cases, community level infrastructure lacks legal recognition. As such they are not considered as public assets that can be financed and managed using public funds. Few countries have an institutional framework for the management of community infrastructure
  • The limited organisational and technical capacity that exists at village level; and
  • The shortage of funds in rural areas for the purchase of materials which are not locally available.
  • Lack of sustainable approach to maintenance: In cases where the central government, NGOs or donor agencies are involved in providing initial capital investments, subsequent maintenance could be a problem. It is common that local governments, which are often charged with maintenance tasks, have not been involved in the investment planning process. Without a clear policy as to who owns and is responsible for the maintenance of RTI, well intended efforts aimed at improving rural access will be short-lived.

Microempresas de Mantenimiento de Caminos Rurales en Latinoamérica, un modelo exitoso de gestión vial
by Emilio Salomón

Las microempresas de mantenimiento rutinario de caminos fueron impulsadas por primera vez en Latinoamérica por el Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte de Colombia, como una propuesta de solución técnica y económica al problema del mantenimiento de carreteras. Entre 1984 y 1995 crearon 400 microempresas que atendían más de 20,000 Km de caminos nacionales y departamentales, mayormente asfaltados. A partir de 1996 la experiencia fue replicada en Perú, adaptando el modelo a la operación de caminos rurales. Entre 1996 y 2000 el Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones creó 411 microempresas que atienden 10,800 km de caminos vecinales afirmados, ubicados en zonas de extrema pobreza.
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