Transport sector development particularly in rural areas is vital to the economic, social and environmental viability of nations as it essentially helps reduce acute poverty in rural geographies to a great extent.With this in mind, Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has been a long- term partner in development of Sri Lanka since 1966, has embarked on a massive transport sector development project covering, road, railway and port sectors in a bid to move the local transport and logistics sector into the future.
To this end, ADB has come forward as the main funding agency for the successful implementation of the Integrated Road Investment programme or iRoad, in a bid to construct and to upgrade road network in rural areas, so that rural population can be conveniently involved in the nationwide economic and social development.
The iRoad programme which is set up to run from 2014-2027 will include eight project covering nine provinces. And the pilot phase of the iRoad programme was commenced in 2015 in Southern Province covering Galle, Matara and Hambantota districts.
Total funding provided under the iRoad 1 programme amounts to US $ 800 million followed by further funding of US $ 900 million under the iRoad 2 programme.
The project is implemented by the Road Development Authority under the executing Authority of the Ministry of Highways and Road Development and Petroleum Resources Development.
Socio economic impact of iRoad
ADB Country Director in Sri Lanka, Sri Widowati said that the transport sector development is critical to achieve set social, economic targets in the country. Furthermore, she believes that the iRoad project will have a massive socio economic impact on the rural communities, uplifting their day to day life, enhancing their committed valuable contribution to the development of Sri Lanka.
“The project will have improved connectivity between rural communities and socioeconomic centres in Sri Lanka. In addition, improved road connectivity is seen to result in more employment opportunities and better prices for farmers’ produce better school and healthcare facilities, improved health indicators, better school enrolment in rural areas.
“In addition to this, ADB is also planning on developing Sri Lanka’s railway and the port sector,” she said.
Upon completion, iRoad will be the largest single countrywide integrated road development project in Sri Lanka and will create much needed socio economic benefits to all Sri Lankans. The project will comprise 95 contract packages amounting to Rs. 2 billion each.
In addition, approximately 40,000 direct workforce will be involved while over 900 engineers alone will be engaged in work.
The iRoad Southern Province has so far improved 588.5 km of rural access roads, comprising of 565.6km of local roads and a further 22.9 km of national roads. And these rural access roads have been improved to all weather standards and will be maintained for three years after completion of construction, under performance based maintenance.
Voluntary land donation
The salient feature of iRoad project is the paramount attention given to the social, environmental and road safety components in addition to the civil works.
Another salient feature of this project is the voluntary land donation process that involves the contribution of land strips by individuals to the project .During the course of all these road development activities that took place in the Southern Province, people were continuously consulted through grievance redress committees.
As a result of the comprehensive public awareness and meaningful consultations, 792 land owners volunteered to donate their lands by signing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or consent letters to improve the road adjacent to their lands.
“Prior to the land donation process, we do about 3- 4 consultation sessions with the person who owns the land. During the development of this project, land owners were most flexible and accommodating by donating strips of their land for the road development activities. After getting his or her consent, we commence the construction work of these roads. Also during the road construction process, we need to make sure that no economic displacement will happen or no permanent structures will be demolished for any reason. Furthermore, we were able to establish a strong coordination mechanism amongst relevant stakeholders to involve them actively in the project activities,” Anil M.G. Perera, Team Leader MGC-ECL JV, iRoad -Southern Province said.
“I have worked in six countries covering three continents and iRoad is the most logistically challenging project I have ever handled. During the implementation of the iRoad project, indigenous knowledge and other skills of the local residents were also used to deliver the user friendly roads .Technical experiments, made through using local resources available from the environment by iRoad project in Southern Province were achieved successfully,” Perera noted.
Environmental safeguard is also one of the major compulsory components of the iRoad project and the environmental assessment and review framework is prepared to guide selection, screening, categorization, impact assessment, project implementation and monitoring of environmental safeguards according to the requirement of the government of Sri Lanka as well as the ADB Safeguard Policy statement.
At the design stage, a number of environmentally friendly designs were proposed, hence iRoad was able to reduce unnecessary tree removal, introduce low cost soil conservation methods and protect biodiversity such as construction of barrel revetments instead of the traditional concrete retaining walls.
“Many large trees which could have been easily removed were left untouched by the officers of the project, which was a great challenge. The many challenges successfully faced by the officers during the iRoad project in the Southern Province meant that they could set an example for generations yet to come. This was also seen as a necessity, so that they too may learn to be sensitive to the needs of the nature and thereby its conservation.
ADB’s top project
As a consequence of road development process, some trees had to be removed and a total of 4,081 trees were removed yet at a ratio of 1:3, and 12,243 sapling were planted to cover up for the removed trees. Of which 8,000 saplings were planted along the Southern expressway between Godagama –Pinnaduwa intersections. Furthermore for the first time, a tag number has been introduced for each sapling to enable the relevant authorities to identify and protect these trees and the safeguard the beauty of the nation,” Roshan K. Rodrigo Environmental Specialist, MGC-ECL JV, iRoad -Southern Province said.
“ADB is an organization which helps Sri Lanka a lot in road sector development especially the rural road sector development activities. I have the pleasure to state that this is one of the best projects we have implemented in Sri Lanka.” said Road Development Authority Chairman Nihal Sooriyarachchi.
“The objective of the iRoad programme is to improve the transport efficiency and thereby to enhance the social economic standards of rural community,” said Jennifer Weerakoon, Project Director- iRoad.
“In order to promote women participation in road development project, iRoad, SP has provided equal opportunities for female and male workers in project activities. Men and Women employees have been paid equal wages for equal work,” said Somathilaka Kindelpitiya Social Gender and Resettlement Specialist –iRoad Project.
The project has also identified vulnerable families residing adjacent to the roads and while implementing the project activities and the requirements of those families were addressed under EWCD friendly design concept. In some of the areas in Southern province, wild elephants are freely roaming on rural roads. Due to elephant behavior some existing road sign boards were being damaged .In identifying this issue, iRoad , Southern Province has introduced a new road sign at elephant crossing points for the first time in Sri Lanka.
Benefits to people
According to Chief Secretary of the Southern Province R.C.De Zoysa, almost 98% of construction work has been completed under the iRoad 1 project in the Southern province.
The project was also able to motivate contractors to conduct a number of corporate Social Responsibility programmes. Since the project is implemented in adopting the concept of context sensitive design approach, it is accepted the fact that the beneficiaries should also satisfied with the project outcomes.
Hence the project has been formulated in such a way that the constructive suggestions and indigenous knowledge were accommodated in to the final designs of the road. Today people in the Southern Province have better accessibility to their jobs, and further development in their professions and their livelihoods due to iRoad project.
It has brought villages closer to the cities by providing a better road network, whilst ensuring the protection of nature and the environment.