Rural Infrastructure Underpins All Development

Finding the way to provide effective and efficient infrastructure in remote and neglected areas that are typically drought-prone or mountainous or the inland areas typical of much of Sub-Saharan Africa underpins all other efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and education, and secure peace and prosperity.

Efficient transport is needed to facilitate production and enable farmers to bring their products to markets. Intensive agriculture is particularly dependent on vehicle access. But today, most agricultural production in Africa is generated along a vast network of footpaths, tracks, and community roads where the most common modes of transport are the "legs, heads, and backs of women." Indeed, the largest part of a household's time expenditure is for domestic transport.

Not only will improvements in transport systems and other rural infrastructure — especially potable water and electricity — greatly accelerate agricultural production and rural economic growth, it would reduce rural isolation, thus helping to break down tribal animosities and to establish rural schools and clinics in areas where teachers and health practitioners have been heretofore unwilling to settle. For instance, the conditions of local roads in Sub-Saharan Africa — both in rural areas and in urban centers — are especially poor and generally worsening as the volume and weight of traffic increases. Reversing this trend will require new thinking, new partnerships, and new institutional arrangements. Even if the public sector could manage transport effectively, the private sector will be increasingly asked to help finance it.

Today, experts are calling for new types of public-private sector partnerships to build and maintain integrated transport infrastructure — from farms to cities to ports. National governments, subregional associations, and large international donor organizations have important roles to play in the future planning, financing, and managing of integrated and coordinated systems. However, small- and medium-sized private entrepreneurs and local governments and communities must also be involved in the development and management process.

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