The lack of year round access to many rural communities is a serious constraint to social and economic development, and poverty reduction. Poor access limits the effectiveness of agricultural, commercial, educational and health initiatives through unreliable travel and high unit transport costs for crops, goods, services and people. Previous rural transport initiatives have concentrated on the provision of gravel roads for all year rural access. However, experiences have shown that these roads, although relatively cheap to construct, are often an unsustainable maintenance burden for many authorities and rural communities, and are rarely maintained in a serviceable condition.
The paper describes recent DFID and World Bank funded research on alternatives to gravel roads in Vietnam and elsewhere. A range of proven, low-cost, rural road paving options is available that are suitable for construction and maintenance by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Most of these paving options require little capital investment, use labour-based techniques and can optimize the use of local materials resources. They can utilize locally made or available simple equipment, thus promoting local manufacturing and appropriate equipment ownership. For many of these techniques overhead costs could be reduced and a higher proportion of the costs could be recycled in the local community and therefore facilitate poverty reduction. The maintenance burden is usually lower than for gravel roads, and whole life costs can be cheaper than the provision of a gravel surface.
The paper also reviews the surfacing options and the process by which they are being effectively mainstreamed in the rural road sector by incorporation in the Vietnam Rural Road Standards.
PIARC - RGC, Siem Reap, November 2005, 13 pp.