Nairobi — A 960km stretch of road connecting South Sudan and neighbouring Kenya to help boost economic ties between the two countries is expected to cost an estimated $1.3 billion, World Bank officials say.
The road will link Eldoret in north-western Kenya to South Sudan's capital of Juba and will be funded by the international donor community, as well as both governments, the World Bank's transport engineer for Africa, Tesfamichael Mitike, told journalists in Nairobi.
Speaking at a two-day meeting in Nairobi to discuss how both countries will jointly develop the project, Mitike said construction of the road network is due to get underway by mid-2014 once all funding is in place and is expected to take three to four years to complete.
The East African countries are currently developing a number of road, rail and pipeline links to boost trade in the region. Last year, Kenya and South Sudan agreed to build a 2,000-kilometre pipeline to the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu, while in March, construction began on a deep-water port that will serve Kenya's underdeveloped north, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda.
The majority of South Sudan's 7,000 kilometres of roads remain unpaved or in disrepair, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook, China's official press agency Xinhua reported.
The dilapidated condition of the road network poses significant restrictions on the movement of freight and people, particularly during the rainy season, World Bank country director for South Sudan Bella Bird told Xinhua.
She also noted that Kenya's experience in developing major transport arteries will be of help to South Sudanese authorities.
Given the strategic benefits of the corridor, both governments have flagged the road upgrades as a high priority project, said Bird, adding the Juba-Eldoret route would contribute to non-oil-based growth in South Sudan and at the same time speed up the development of north western Kenya.
South Sudan's minister for roads Lieutenant-General Gier Aluong said his country has committed $7 billion over the next 10 years in infrastructure development out of which $3 billion will be used to upgrade its road infrastructure.
"The government of South Sudan is committed to ensure that the road link to Kenya is urgently rehabilitated so as to promote and facilitate cross border trade of the two neighboring states," Aluong told Xinhua.
"It is also the shortest and most cost effective route linking South Sudan to the Mombasa port," the roads minister added.
Kenya's minister of roads Franklin Bett said that the road section on the Kenyan side is currently being designed and should be completed by May.
The road currently provides passage to more than 90% of the freight transportation from the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam to South Sudan, said Bett, despite not being designed to carry heavy vehicle traffic.
In some stretches the bitumen surfacing has been completely destroyed and overlaid with gravel in order to make the road passable.
South Sudan Minister of Finance Kosti Ngai said his government will provide about $25 million dollars towards construction of the road.
The African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, China's Export-Import Bank are among international donors to have shown interest in the project.
JONGLEI ROAD CONSTRUCTION BEGINS
Meanwhile, South Sudan's ministry of physical infrastructure has announced the commencement of road works connecting Jonglei state capital Bor to the three counties of Twic east, Duk and Ayod in northern Jonglei.
Speaking to press last week, the ministry's director-general, Billy Peter Wall, said they had stepped up construction efforts during the current dry season, particularly the maintenance and repair of roads running from the state's capital to the nearest counties.
"We are depending too much on the national government to support us with the maintenance of the roads so that constructions [only] reach[es] the counties which are near to the state capital," Wall said.
The state's poor road network was repeatedly said to be a major developmental setback by state officials.
Road grading has started from Bor to Ayod through Duk and Twic east counties and is expected to continue to Pathai, a small town between Waat and Ayod county, with its own grader donated by the European Union.
He also recognised the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for donating 90 drums of fuel to start the construction of roads.
Two years ago, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) constructed a 165km road connecting Akobo and Pochalla. Works started two years ago, but suffered due to logistical and transportation issues.
"Taking big machineries to the side was a problem; getting the fuel itself was problem and insecurity in some of the areas on that side was also [a] problem, but this year they will complete [the] Akobo bridge which will support the ministry in transporting machineries," he said.