BIG PLANS FOR A BET­TER, SAFER ROAD NET­WORK

JICA, ADB and USAID to support up­grades

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - By Hans Hulst

Any­one who has trav­elled ex­ten­sively in Myan­mar knows that the roads in main­land South­east Asia’s largest coun­try are of­ten de­crepit and in more re­mote ar­eas, almost non-ex­is­tent. In the rainy sea­son some roads can only be nav­i­gated by four-wheel drive ve­hi­cle.

To fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic growth – the smooth trans­port of peo­ple and goods is es­sen­tial for de­vel­op­ment – an up­grade is needed. The Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Agency is plan­ning a study of the na­tional road net­work and an as­sess­ment of its con­di­tion. The study will take years to be com­pleted and no fi­nal dead­line has been set.

The Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank is play­ing its part, too. The Manila-based ADB is de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem un­der which the Min­istry of Con­struc­tion’s Pub­lic Works depart­ment will un­der­take up­grades in the com­ing years, said the bank’s prin­ci­pal trans­port spe­cial­ist, Jamie Leather, who is spend­ing much of his time in Myan­mar.

What is his gen­eral as­sess­ment of Myan­mar’s roads?

“The road net­work in Myan­mar is lower in terms of cov­er­age area than in other ASEAN coun­tries,” said Mr Leather. “The needs are vast and cover dif­fer­ent road types: pri­mary, sec­ondary and ter­tiary. They ba­si­cally spread across the whole coun­try. The gov­ern­ment has men­tioned the need to pro­vide support to the states as they re­ceived less support in the past and this would help the peace process.”

The ADB will it­self un­der­take two road projects, both in the pre­lim­i­nary stages: the Maubin-Pyapon road in Ay­er­waddy Re­gion and the Eindu-Kawkareik road in Kayin State. “The fund­ing ar­range­ments are not yet fi­nalised,” said Mr Leather.

Road safety is a se­ri­ous con­cern as many roads in Myan­mar are poorly built, badly lit and lack ad­e­quate sig­nage. Data from the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion shows an alarm­ing rise in road deaths, which have tripled from 2.5 deaths for ev­ery 100,000 peo­ple in 2006, to 7.6 in 2013, the lat­est avail­able fig­ures. Since then the num­ber of cars and trucks im­ported into coun­try since 2011 has reached about 300,000.

One of the ma­jor road safety flash­points in Myan­mar is the Yan­gon-Nay Pyi Taw-Man­dalay toll­way. The 202-mile (325 kilo­me­tres) Yan­gon-Nay Pyi Taw sec­tion was opened in March 2009, after a rushed con­struc­tion pe­riod. The 150mile (240km) Nay Pyi Taw-Man­dalay sec­tion opened about a year later.

The ac­ci­dent rate on the toll­way link­ing Yan­gon-Nay Pyi Taw is no­to­ri­ously high, with traf­fic po­lice in May re­port­ing more than 360 fa­tal­i­ties since the open­ing in 2009 of what the me­dia has dubbed the “Death High­way”. From Jan­uary to April this year there were 147 se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents on the toll­way, leav­ing 57 peo­ple dead and 262 in­jured. In the worst sin­gle loss of life on the toll­way, 14 peo­ple died after a high­way bus ran off the road and slammed into a bridge on May 12.

A Pres­i­dent U Thein Sein in­spected the crash site with the Min­is­ter of Con­struc­tion, U Kyaw Lwin. “The Pres­i­dent called for a num­ber of im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing an up­grade of the bridges along the road, ex­pan­sion of the high­way from four lanes and quick im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­pair works,” the state-con­trolled New Light of Myan­mar re­ported.

The daily said up­grade work would fo­cus on six per­cent of the high­way’s length, or about 12 miles, a sec­tion iden­ti­fied as a pri­or­ity by JICA.

JICA, KOICA and the United States Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment have all been asked to con­trib­ute to up­grades on the toll­way.

“The gov­ern­ment asked us a year and a half ago re­gard­ing the Yan­gon-Man­dalay high­way,” said USAID mis­sion di­rec­tor Chris Mul­li­gan.

“They asked us: as the US fo­cused its support on roads in the 1950s, can you support in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment again?” Mr Mul­li­gan said.

“We told them we don’t fi­nance roads any­more,” he said.

“What could we bring? We re­alised it’s not a ques­tion of re­sources but of tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance. Our ini­tial step was to pro­vide a tech­ni­cal ex­pert, who worked with a coun­ter­part in the Min­istry of Con­struc­tion to make an as­sess­ment of the con­di­tion of the Yan­gon-Nay Pyi Taw-Man­dalay high­way.”

After the as­sess­ment was com­pleted, USAID pro­posed rec­om­men­da­tions for meet­ing safety stan­dards. USAID part­nered with the min­istry on a pro­gram that will pro­vide train­ing in safety and en­gi­neer­ing stan­dards for road con­struc­tion to meet in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

Of­fi­cials in­spect the man­gled re­mains of a bus that crashed into a bridge on the Yan­gon-Nay Pyi Taw toll­way on May 12, leav­ing 14 peo­ple dead. Photo: Win Ko Ko Latt

Dou­bling the num­ber of traf­fic po­lice and in­tro­duc­ing a manda­tory writ­ten test on safe driv­ing the­ory for driver’s li­cence ap­pli­cants would help to im­prove con­di­tions on the coun­try’s roads, say ex­perts. Photo: Hein Htet

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