Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

The path less traveled

We see it everywhere, major road construction in the middle of the city, turning everyone’s world upside down. The current Bole road construction left many homes without utilities while business dried up. The construction made life so hard that the construction company put up signs apologizing in advance for the inconvenience. Having roads with over passes and such is really nice but I’m sure most of us would have liked to fast forward the process. In the end though, it is inevitable for the city and country to go through these changes.

Putting aside all the little inconveniences, infrastructure is often seen as a key determinant of growth and poverty reduction. Infrastructure can literary be the road to many opportunities. Around the world over one billion have no access to roads. In Ethiopia infrastructure hasn’t been a priority until a decade ago. Now everywhere in the country there seems to be road construction. The Ethiopian Road Authority was established in 1951 to undertake the country’s road construction but underperformed for many years. Ethiopia is estimated to have spent over 600 billion birr on the construction of infrastructure.

Since 1991 the Ethiopian government started to pay the much needed attention to road construction. In 1997 Road Sector Development Program (RSPD) was launched in two phases to help improve the road coverage of the nation. The roads that were constructed through the RSPD to connect Addis Ababa with regional main towns and ports that have strengthened the economy and social bond of the country. The construction of the roads has created a favorable situation for investors to engage in the agricultural sector.

The objective of first phase of the Road Sector Development Program (RSDP I) was mainly aimed at upgrading and rehabilitating the existing road network. The RSDP II has given attention to the expansion of the existing network in order to enable the road infrastructure to support the country’s endeavor to advance its economy and reduce poverty.

An important aspect of RSDP II is that it introduces a new dimension covering the requirements of travel and transport at the village level: the Ethiopian Rural Travel and Transport Sub-Program (ERTTP). The ERTTP is expected to better support agricultural and other commercial activities in the regions, and thus provide a sound and sustainable foundation for the on-going economic development in the country.

The construction of roads also goes hand in hand with the reduction of poverty. Many rural villages still do not have access to roads, making some tasks very hard. Access to roads means access to medical care, education as well as basic technology. Lack of adequate infrastructure prolongs poverty because it denies possibilities. Hunger, one of the most obvious signs of poverty is often less the result of a lack of food than a distance from food. When people live far away from food sources, food security depends on infrastructure that insures food can be transported in an efficient and cost effective way.

Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment, acting as a discouragement to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads do not want to set up factories that would potentially generate big employment opportunities improving living standards and reduce poverty.

Lack of infrastructure also leads to poor health and high mortality rates. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available or where lack of roads makes them inaccessible, people cannot get the medical attention they need. In addition to health, education is another important factor that enables people to overcome extreme poverty. Where there are no schools (another essential element of basic infrastructure), it becomes difficult to educate children or adults leading to a cycle that deprives later generations of learning.

However, simply developing infrastructure is not enough to reduce poverty. In addition to spreading poverty where infrastructure does not exist, poverty can also affect how much access people have to infrastructure where it does exist. For example for women who make up two thirds of the world’s poorest and who have the least access to economic infrastructure as a result of social and cultural norms.

The challenges that may hinder developing infrastructure is that of cost, in terms of material, labor or machines being very expensive, funding and resources must be provided for it to be constructed and properly maintained. We sometimes see roads constructed and then destroyed by water or heavy loaded cars in a matter of six months. That is a waste of money and it doesn’t solve any problems.

Although a road construction like the one on Bole road may be annoying to all of us because now it takes longer to get to work or we can’t sit outside of our favorite café because the construction has destroyed a few sewage systems and the dirty water is running freely along the sidewalks stinking up the place, its only temporary. In the end, our inconvenience is a small price to pay for all the benefits we will be getting.