Roads funded by EU left to fall apart in sub-Saharan Africa
The EU has spent billions of euros to build roads in sub-Saharan Africa that are left to deteriorate because of poor maintenance, the European Court of Auditors said on Tuesday.
A review of the European Development Fund (EDF) shows that despite the €7.4bn (£6.1bn) spent on building modern highways between 1995 and 2011, the investments "were less successful than expected" because governments in recipient countries failed to follow up with maintenance or enforce weight limits, said Szabolcs Fazakas, a member of the audit body, based in Luxembourg.
Auditors investigated 48 projects in six countries to determine if the investments were sustainable over the long term.
Road transport handles more than 80% of cargo movement in sub-Saharan Africa, and good regional and national transportation links are seen as vital to efforts to reduce poverty and hunger, with 230 million people, or a quarter of Africans, classified as undernourished.
"The problem of hunger and malnutrition is related to food availability but it is not the only factor," said Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, who heads Oxfam's research team in Britain and is the author of a new report on hunger in Africa.
"One of the main elements when people go hungry is that they can't access the existing food, meaning they cannot reach the markets," he told EurActiv in an interview. "And that happens a lot in some places in rural Africa where markets disappear when there is a natural disaster … or where roads or communications are really bad."
The auditors did not monitor potential corruption, governance or the stability of the 43 countries that had received road-sector financing from the EU.
For example, Mali has been the third highest recipient of road-sector funds from the EDF – €419.6m – after Ethiopia (€669.9m) and Uganda (€466.7m). But the west African nation has descended into chaos following a military coup last March, and is embroiled in a conflict with Islamic rebels that prompted France to send an intervention force on 11 January.
Ethiopia has been involved in its own political turmoil, including the mass arrest of opposition politicians and journalists following the east African country's 2005 elections and, more recently, a crackdown on civil society groups.
The auditors cited areas where the European commission had failed to hold beneficiary governments accountable after the highways were completed.
In Zambia, which has received €288m for roadworks since 1995, the commission suspended support for road projects temporarily "because of insufficient progress in policy reforms, in particular in respect of road maintenance". A year later, the commission agreed to fund a highway project "with no conditions attached", the auditors said.
Some countries failed to enforce cargo weight limits despite the extensive damage that heavy loads can cause to roads. National government highway budgets tend to finance new roads rather than maintain existing ones, the auditors found.
Besides Zambia, the auditors investigated EU-funded projects in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad and Tanzania. The audit covered around 2,400km of highways.
In a response to the audit, commission officials promised to improve oversight. "We are very confident, with the help of this report, that the sustainability of roads constructed with EU funds will lead to improved road sustainability in sub-Saharan Africa," Fazakas said.
Problems in the water sector
The roads report came after the court of auditors said last year that many EU-backed sanitation and water projects in sub-Saharan Africa are unsustainable because of missing technical and financial support.
The court of auditors (pdf) said investments worth millions of euros in six African countries are at risk because many of the projects lack the maintenance and revenues to sustain future operations.
"For a majority of projects, resulting benefits will not continue to flow in the medium and long-term unless non-tariff revenue is insured or because of institutional weaknesses," David Bostock, a member of the court, said at the release of the audit in September.
The auditors reviewed 23 projects in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania. They found that fewer than half the water and sanitation projects were meeting the needs of beneficiaries.
Those nations account for some €320m of the €1bn spent by the European commission from 2001 to 2010 to improve water and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa.
The EU is collectively the largest aid donor, providing €54bn, or 56% of the total in 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Andris Piebalgs, European development commissioner, said:
"The European commission shares the court [of auditors]'s recommendations to focus our resources on sectors where the greatest impact can be achieved. This ties in very well with our own Agenda for Change – the EU's new blueprint for development policy …
"EU's aid doesn't end once the road is built. We are also trying to help our partner countries address the main causes of road deterioration, such as damage from the weather or vehicles being too overloaded, as well as helping our partner countries to find an appropriate balance between maintenance and the expansion of their road network. However, the commission shares the court's view that partner countries should do more to ensure sustainability of road infrastructure."
Guardian online here
Last Updated (Friday, 25 January 2013 09:40)
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