Wednesday, 9 September 2009

UK unveils plan to double its funding to rebuild the Congo's road network

The UK will double its funding for a road-building in the Democratic Republic of Congo to improve access to some of the world's most remote regions, UK Minister for Trade and Development Gareth Thomas announced today while on a visit.

The DRC has one of the least developed roads networks in the world - 95% of the DRC's 152,400 km of roads are effectively just paths, making it difficult to get food, medicine and trade routes open. Only one out of ten of the provincial capitals are easily accessible by road.

This severely hampers development prospects and has been cited as a reason the country is so poor. Of the 60 million citizens, around 45 million live on less than 50p a day. One in seven children die before their fifth birthday, and every day nearly 100 Congolese mothers die in childbirth.

During his visit to the country, Africa Minister Gareth Thomas announced the Department for International Development would double its funding for road building programmes from £38 million to £76 million.

The road building programme will bring together the Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of the DRC, the World Bank and other donors to build, and maintain, the country's roads. This is key to helping to promote trade and investment, as well as security.

The 'Pro-Routes' roads programme will:

* Support the DRC Government to open and maintain between 2,500 km and 3,000 km of priority roads;

* Provide better access to social services and markets;

* Help the Government of the DRC to run its own road-building and maintenance programme, and also help it to establish a 'second generation road fund', through tax on petrol and diesel sales;

* Boost the ability of private sector businesses to carry out road maintenance; and

* Develop a forward-thinking road sector strategy which will ensure the continuation of the roads programme, and also set up a wide-ranging environmental and social strategy which will ensure the natural forest of the DRC, and the population, is protected.

Gareth Thomas said: "With an area the size of western Europe, it only has 2,000 km of paved roads, compared with 398,000 km in the UK.

"By doubling the amount of UKaid for the DRC's road building project , ordinary citizens and businesses will get better access not only to medical care and schools, and also to export markets, which will help lift the country out of poverty.

"With the global economic crisis hitting developing countries like the DRC hardest, and 45 million people living on less than 50 pence a day, new roads will bring much-needed new development opportunities for the people of DRC, and help them live in peace and stability."

Studies have shown that in areas where there are no roads, bandits and rebels often commit crimes and then disappear into heavily forested areas to escape justice. Roads allow soldiers and police better access to keep law and order.

Better roads mean small-scale farmers can get their produce to market before it rots or spoils, and also brings down prices in the area by increasing competition from traders, thereby helping the local population.

Problems in getting medical supplies and aid to more remote regions because of poor transport links, leads to more women dying in childbirth, and children dying from preventable diseases.

The DRC is heavily reliant on imports, even on items which it grows or supplies from within its own borders, because exports can be brought in more cheaply.

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