ASIA has historically experienced high population mobility over the past few decades. More importantly, the mobility still continues to increase due to improvement in transportation and cross-border road infrastructure in the recent years. As a result, this is likely to have profound impacts on socio-economic development in developing countries.
Regional economic integration
Considering the changing context of poverty and mobility, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) together with International Forum for Rural Transport and Development (IFRTD) recently organised an international workshop on gender, economic integration and cross-border road infrastructure development in Thailand. It was an important opportunity to share, discuss and learn the issues and experiences related to regional economic integration in Asia and its linkages with cross-border networks.
In the case of the less developed countries, much more needs to be done in terms of investment in the construction and renovation of road networks. This is primarily because the road networks offer important opportunities for regional economic integration in Asia. In particular, road infrastructure development should be a priority agenda in the national policies and rural development programmes.
"The research findings related to gender, poverty and mobility analysis in the transport sector has been instrumental in promoting policy advocacy and networking in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). However, we now need to critically review the gender dimensions of mobility and its impacts on rural livelihoods," says Kyoko Kusakabe, Associate Professor of AIT in Thailand.
The Mekong is one of the great Asian rivers originating in Tibet, flowing down through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The GMS programme mainly aims at facilitating cross-border trade and investment by strengthening infrastructure linkages. "This has greatly contributed to improving the linkages between rural and urban areas and reducing poverty,’’ says Prof. H. Detlef Kammeier, University of Technology, Berlin.
More importantly, the road networks have largely been effective in improving rural livelihoods by narrowing the gap between rural and urban areas. This is why rural roads are a key priority for local development in most of the developing countries.
However, there are also concerns about environmental issues due to conventional road building techniques which will potentially have profound impacts on rural livelihoods. On the other side, there are also emerging needs of road safety measures because many people either lose their lives or become disabled every year due to increasing road accidents on the highways as well as rural areas.
Similarly, there are also concerns of negative consequences due to cross-border road linkages. Human trafficking, drug abuse, prostitution and HIV/AIDS are considered social problems in the urban and cross-border areas.
Considering the ground reality of the socio-economic status of developing countries, there are emerging needs of road networks which particularly emphasise local resource mobilisation and community participation for sustainable development of road networks.
Experiences from our country have clearly shown that rural road networks offer new opportunities and prospects for socio-economic development in rural and remote areas. However, the rural people still have to face many problems related to transportation which have remarkably restricted their mobility to access social and economic services in the communities.
In many developing societies, community people are more aware and understand the importance of road networks for their social, economic and environmental benefits in the recent years. In particular, the road networks have significantly fostered agriculture marketing and other economic opportunities to improve the income of the small farmers and their families.
The impacts of rural transport are clearly visible in the health and education sectors. Specifically, there is now increasing access to health care services for women and children. Access to and utilisation of maternity services at the local health facilities have also increased.
‘’The rural road networks have played a vital role in improving access to health care services in the rural communities. It has tremendous impacts on reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality in the country,’’ says Binjwala Shrestha of Institute of Medicine at Maharjgunj.
Undoubtedly, transport sector plays an important role in economic growth and local development. The government should effectively consider gender dimensions in transport policies for poverty reduction. It is crucial to ensure people’s participation in all aspects of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of road infrastructure development projects for community ownership and sustainability.
Road networks are particularly empowering the rural poor and marginalised communities by facilitating their access to socio-economic services such as health, education, water supply and sanitation services. On the other hand, it has made it easy for the public and private sectors to invest more on the transport sector and socio-economic development in the rural areas.
The road networks have potential impacts on population mobility, and this eventually promotes socialisation, exposure and access to resources for the rural poor to improve their socio-economic status. Interestingly, women’s mobility has remarkably increased in the recent years, and it has positive impacts on their social, economic and political status in the communities.
Thus, road networks in the rural areas have been instrumental in safeguarding the rights of poor communities by reducing their vulnerability. Roads are increasingly considered as indispensable means to reduce poverty by offering opportunities for employment and business opportunities. And, this has wider social impacts on rural livelihoods in many developing countries.
Therefore, transport sector has major implications on access to health, education, water and sanitation, and economic services in the rural areas. Thus, the government should invest more on transport and road infrastructure in the rural and remote parts of the country for sustainable rural development.
( The writer can be reached at email@example.com)