Planning for the Opening Up of Developing Rural Areas

Today, planning issues regarding the opening up of areas that are solely agricultural are confined mainly to developing countries. Especially in these countries remoteness, isolation, and inaccessibility are key characteristics. Moreover, the economic and social deprivation that these areas suffer is often largely due to inadequate transportation services. Investment in transport facilities is usually just one element of an integrated development program. This is designed to improve standards of living in these rural areas. Commonly, the main objectives are to increase the quality and quantity of commercial farming and to ensure a better distribution of educational, health, and other social services [1].

Although economic motives are reasons enough for road improvements, the same road also can serve the needs of farmers and provide connections to shops, schools, and villages, to vehicular or foot traffic. Road building and upgrading projects are essential if access to local markets, schools, and clinics are to be increased. Because of the high costs of road-building schemes, most plans are preceded by feasibility studies that investigate the potential benefits to be gained from road upgrading and the introduction of mechanized transport (if appropriate).

Rural communities, however, are just one of many sectors that depend on funds from the national level for road improvements. Even when an appropriate allocation of these funds has been made, the problem of how the optimal distribution of investments within individual rural districts, to secure the most effective return in social and economic terms, remains. The specific transport needs of each area must be identified, followed by the selection of the most effective technology in terms of road surface standard and vehicle type. Finally, the extent to which the opportunities, offered by new or improved roads, for the advancement of living standards, can be realized must be assessed wherever possible. Specific surveys usually are limited to rural areas with an existing or potential agricultural value, as well as to areas that are judged most likely to benefit from the investments. Given the costs of road construction, the issue of cost-effectiveness is often a major criterion [1].

Early studies of the effectiveness of road improvement programs in Africa and Southeast Asia were concerned primarily with improvements in vehicle operating costs and changes in agricultural output and prosperity. In areas with low crop yields, typical for remote areas as well as regions in the developing countries and countries in transition, it is likely that additional investments in road upgrading and new feeder road construction will continue to be highly selective and confined to areas producing the more profitable and higher-yielding crops. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, for example, 98% of the population are within 2 km of all-weather roads or tracks suitable for motorized vehicles. There, additional road improvements would have little effect on either farm-gate or village market prices here, because nontransport factors such as marketing practices are more significant in the local agricultural economy. However, schemes to upgrade footpaths to allow vehicles would be effective here, because improvements in the field-village linkages could lead to more efficient farm practices [1].

Today, "intermediate technology" is often accepted as being the most effective approach to satisfying immediate needs for better accessibility. It matches the limited financial means of isolated farming communities with the demands for more efficient but affordable means of transportation.

Traffic densities in many parts of rural Africa and Asia are insufficient to justify the extension of all-weather road networks. The ultimate objective of a more prosperous rural society with higher levels of accessibility may be obtained by means of a less sophisticated traffic and transport system. Moreover, this can be reached in a more rapid and cost-effective manner. Individual local authorities, rather than regional or national agencies, would be capable of initiating and operating these intermediate technology improvements, which then could be adjusted more closely to the transport needs of specific settlements. If commercial agriculture then prospered to a level where motorized transportation for marketing were feasible, a more ambitious program of road improvement could be introduced.

In many rural areas, therefore, current short-term investments are best directed at the lower end of the road hierarchy, converting simple tracks into serviceable roads to benefit local communities. As soon as information on the existing transportation requirements has been collected, a decision can be made about what level of transport technology is most appropriate for the situation.

In developing countries, the agricultural output from rural areas is still a very meaningful component of the national economy. Therefore, it is important to realize that the small-scale transport systems serving those areas are, in turn, a substantial part of the national transportation system. The systems require as much attention from transport planners as nonrural interurban transport [1].

Guidelines are published for the European Union, aiming to provide a comprehensive overview of the issues that are important for moving toward more sustainable transport infrastructure in developing countries [5]. Furthermore, the guidelines provide a sectoral framework in which project proposals and requests for European Union assistance to the sector can be examined. The guidelines comprise three parts: The first part provides an insight into the key issues in transport infrastructure in developing countries and the emerging solutions of a sectoral approach. The second part provides the means to apply a sectoral approach to examine proposals and requests for assistance in financing transport infrastructure projects. It is organized according the phases in Project-Cycle

Figure 3.8. The six phases of the project cycle, as accepted by the European Commission [5].

Management, as adopted by the European Commission (Fig. 3.8). For each of these phases, the issues affecting project sustainability are raised in a series of key questions. This list of questions should be used as the starting point to raise further questions in examining the underlying problems and causes. Finally, the third part provides tools for developing and monitoring projects within a sectoral framework. These are standard formats for terms of reference and reports of studies in different phases of the project cycle.

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