Published:  12:58 AM, 12 September 2017

An innovative approach for rural road maintenance in Bangladesh

An innovative approach for rural road maintenance in Bangladesh A PBMC Road Cox's Bazar to Teknaf

Accessibility is a threshold of the rural economy. Bangladesh is heading toward to meet rural accessibility index which is revealed by a study of the World Bank titled "New Rural Access Index: Main Determinants and Correlations to Poverty" in November, 2016. The report mentioned that in Bangladesh 86.7 percent of villages are now interconnected with roads in two kilometers radius that finally meet with the highways.

Bangladesh has estimated around 352,943 kilometers rural roads networks. Out of total, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) has paved 96,892 kilometers around the country. At present, 88 percent of upazila and 66 percent union roads have been paved in Bangladesh. As a result, a robust communications networks built-up around the country. The network is directly linked with rural economic hub, health centres and educational institutions at the community level. The infrastructure is immensely contributing to improving the livelihood of the people of Bangladesh.

Keeping road serviceable for all seasons is growing concern for all. Road maintenance is vital since the network expanding day by day and the traffic increasing simultaneously. Budget and management for maintenance and ownership are the key issues in this regard.

In searching a suitable road maintenance approach, LGED pilots a model under the Second Rural Transport Improvement Project (RTIP-II) entitled with Performance Based Maintenance Contracts (PBMC). The PBMC is considered to be one of the cost effective and time saving approach aiming to reduce maintenance cost and management burden ensuring optimum riding quality of the road in all season.

From 2013, the RTIP-II is implementing PBMC model for maintaining 446.96 km rural road networks in 8 districts through 17 contracts. The PBMC is used as an alternative model against the traditional approach of road maintenance in Bangladesh. In this approach, contractors bear all responsibilities during the contract period to keep the road all weather serviceable compiling different indicators.

The project uses 23 indices to monitor the quality of maintenance under the program. District and upazila level LGED engineers are responsible to monitor the performance of the roads on a monthly basis. Contractors are entitled to get bills based on performance or outcomes. A recent World Bank assessment shows that the PBMC's maintenance cost is 15-30 per cent lower than the traditional approach.

It focuses on minimum maintenance works for maximizing road services with the provisions of emergency response and creating employment opportunity for rural people particularly for poor women. The contactors are fully liable to monitor the maintenance of the roads.

The underlining principle of the model is as like as the public private partnership where sense of ownership of the contractors to keep the road serviceable for all weather. The sustainability of the model depends on sense of ownership of the contractors and the LGED officials as well. Here, management and optional works are shifted towards contractors for optimizing cost to maximize services. The primary assessment shows that the contracts are found enthusiastic, responsible and motivated to manage the maintenance works. The model entails unique approach to engage poor women to maintenance the routine works on the roads.

A total number of 446 women are working under PBMC where they earn Tk. 4500 a month. The women workers are responsible for doing routine road maintenance including cleaning of drains, filling pits, clearing minor blockades and planting trees. They are getting direct benefits including food, clothing and education for their babies and health and medical services as well. In this project, women workers get access to the formal banking sectors by opening accounts and making transactions.

While talking to the people of the PBMC roads, including commuters, drivers and community people expressed high degree of satisfaction to get the traffic smooth.  The drivers also expressed satisfaction for riding quality of the roads.  Md. Nazrul Islam a truck driver who plies his vehicles from Riapura to Narsigndhi thrice in a week on this route, said, 'I have been using this road for five years but for the one and half years I am really happy for improved riding that has been emanating from the smooth roads. Moreover, all the drivers who move on the road are very happy for the quality riding. We also see that the road is maintained regularly.'

Community people are also very happy because of getting smooth road. Md. Nasir Uddin Khan Chairman of Amirgonj Union of Raipura Upazila, told, 'The road is being maintained regularly. If any minor repair work is needed, the contractor makes it promptly. We are happy to get such good quality road.'

To make the model perfect the key stakeholders made few recommendations including selection of proper road, verify residual life of the pavement, progress monitoring approach, bidding process, overloading, water logging and nature of engagement of women workers.

The PBMC model enhances the life cycle of the road and creates a sense of ownership among the local stakeholders. Finally, LGED develops a common framework for implementing PBMC model which will obviously open a new avenue for rural road maintenance in Bangladesh.

The writer is Project Director of Second Rural Transport Improvement Project (RTIP-II)

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