Access to Transport: Ensuring Equitable Inclusion for All

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Sybille RUPPRECHTAccess to Transport: Ensuring Equitable Inclusion for All

by Sybille RUPPRECHT, Director General, International Road Federation (IRF)

The prevailing lack of basic transport infrastructure and affordable transport services in developing countries seriously impedes poverty reduction and represents a major obstacle in the achievement of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The World Bank estimates that more than 1 billion people living in rural areas still do not have access to adequate transport. Physical isolation caused by poor transport constitutes one of the leading inhibitors of economic progress across many parts of the world, and particularly impacts rural communities.

The vital importance of rural roads in the development context cannot be underestimated, but is only recently beginning to be fully understood and acknowledged. Rural roads represent the first crucial link in a complex supply chain, and constitute an essential prerequisite for securing any region's long-term agricultural and food security capacity. In the light of growing recognition that until the rural poor are integrated into the main economic stream countries as a whole cannot prosper, access to roads is often the single most important determinant of agricultural productivity - ahead even of quality of soil.

And yet, in most developing countries and regions, farmers delivering crops and livestock to nearby markets still too often have to rely on severely deficient, unclassified roads and wholly inadequate means of transportation. Poor or inappropriate transport raises their production and distribution costs, reduces their profit margins and limits their yields to what can be physically transported under the prevailing weather conditions.

Faced with this untenable situation, the provision of basic road infrastructure and warehousing facilities can make a vital difference in terms of making it economically viable to modernise production through the introduction of appropriate mechanisation and higher yield crops, thereby transforming rural villages into vibrant agricultural logistics hubs. The lack of access to health care and education further influence the low economic development in the life of rural peddlers.

While it often remains a difficult selling proposition - competing as it does with numerous other priorities and demands for political attention - the need for new vision and approaches to rural infrastructure construction and operations has never been greater. This is particularly true in the current context of new design challenges (notably occasioned by climate change impacts and rising input costs), a densifying institutional environment and a growing need for increased engagement with private sector stakeholders. Unless these trends are carefully analysed, and appropriate policy reform implications drawn at regional level, there is a serious and highly perverse risk of diminishing effectiveness in rural infrastructure investment - precisely at a time when it is most needed for the achievement of global economic development goals.

The International Road Federation believes strongly that immediate priority should be given to implementing appropriate policies aimed at ensuring universal access to affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound transport systems - in both the urban and rural environments. Adequate, efficient and effective transport systems are, indeed, critical for the provision of access to markets, employment, education, health and other basic services that are essential factors - not only for poverty alleviation but also the wider achievement of the full range of MDGs.