Officials at the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA) spent most of the working days last week at the UN Conference Centre (UNCC), where they were busy evaluating the first year performance of the third phase of the Road Sector Development Programme (RSDP III).
The evaluation meeting, held from September 23 -26, 2008, was chaired by Arkebe Oqubay, state minister for the Ministry of Works and Urban Development (MoWUD), ERA's supervisory government agency.
"The RSDP is one of the most successful development projects that Ethiopia has been implementing over the last decade," Arkebe told the about 300 participants, who included representatives of local and international consultant companies, contractors and donors.
When ERA was established in 1851, the total road network in Ethiopia amounted to 6,400Km and had been built mainly during the Italian occupation of 1936-1941. By 1997, the road network had grown to 26,550Km, of which 3,708Km were paved.
The RSDP I, the first phase of the government's strategy to achieve its policy objectives in the road sector, was implemented from 1897 to 2002. This was followed by RSDP II from 2002 through to 2007, owing to which the road network had stretched to 39,477Km by November 2006, when the RSDP III draft was prepared.
"The share of road network in good condition has improved from 22pc in 1997 to 53pc in 2008," reads ERA's eleven years RSDP performance report presented at the evaluation meeting.
RSDP III consists of civil work programmes, including the upgrading of roads, the construction of 5567Km new roads, and the improvement of bridges and structures.
Maintenance works, including periodic maintenance on 3027Km roads and routine maintenance on all roads is also part of the programme, along with the construction of 45,548Km of community roads - roads to be constructed with material and labour contributions from the public in the areas to be developed.
The 52.9 billion Br the programme needs is expected to come from the Ethiopian government's coffers and loans and grants from the World Bank, EU, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Saudi Fund for Development, as well as from the governments of Japan, Germany, UK, Ireland the Ethiopian Road Fund.
"The country's road network, which was 42,428Km in 2007 has reached 44,355Km in the current year," Zaid W. Gebrel, director general of ERA said in the eleven years RSDP performance report he presented on the first day of the meeting. "The plan is to expand the network further to 50,000Km by the end of the programme in 2010."
Road transport is the dominant mode of transportation and accounts for more than 95pc of motorized inter-urban freight and passenger movement. Yet Ethiopia has a limited road network (44,359Km) as compared to the size of its 1.2 million square metres landmass and estimated 79 million population. This is hampering economic development, especially in the rural areas. The overall network that can be said to be in good condition is about 53pc.
Cognizant of the crucial role the road sector plays for the economic development of the country, the government has mapped out the RSDP, which it believes would help it speed up the improvement and expansion of the road network. The programme provides a comprehensive approach to interpreting the implementation of key road investments with major policy and institutional reforms.
Foreign contractor's involvement in Ethiopian road construction has been growing year after year, and both local and foreign contractors seem to have enjoyed the benefits of the government's roads sector projects. Over the past ten years, growth in private sector input in road development has been rapid, as it climbed from handling 105.7 million Br worth projects in 1996/97 fiscal year to projects worth 2.7 billion Br in 2006/07, at an overage growth rate of over 245pc annually.
The participation of international contractors has also shown a steady rise, from 57.2 million Br in 1996/97 to one billion Br in 2002/03. In 2005/2006, the total construction expenditure by them rose to two billion Birr.
Nevertheless, the rising cost of construction materials year-on-year price is not good news for the government, which has won growing recognition for its aggressive road construction projects.
A road construction market study consultant for ERA's RSDP - W.T Consult Plc, a local consultancy indicates that the unit cost of construction for paved road had risen by 77.7pc over ten years from three million Birr per kilometre in 1996/97 to 5.33 million Br in 2006/07.
"This is a series challenge for us," Ziad told the participants.