Do improved roads increase the availability of medical services in remote area? They do. In addition, they also improve the mobility of women, the availability of products and agricultural inputs in rural markets, the possibility for children to reach their schools and the connectivity of rural producers with suppliers and buyers, as the Market Infrastructure Development Project in Charland Regions (MIDPCR) shows.
Jointly funded by the Government of Bangladesh, IFAD and the Government of the Netherlands, MIDPCR has been working since 2006 to improve the livelihoods of women, men and children living in the one of the most remote and poor area of Bangladesh, regularly struck by cyclones and subject to flooding. Poor road infrastructure limited access to larger markets, increased production costs due to high input and transportation costs, and lowered prices due to remoteness. With a total investment of USD43.9 million and targeting poor primary producers, small traders (both women and men), and women labourers, MIDPCR constructed road and market infrastructure, created employment opportunities in construction works and providing training and access to financial services to support start-up of income generating activities.
Over the implementation period of 6 years, 432 km of road and 66 markets were constructed under MIDPCR. Instead of using regular contractors, the project worked with Labor Contracting Societies (LCS) for market infrastructure and village roads. LCS are groups of women who, after receiving training, construct roads, market infrastructure and boat landing stages. In an area where employment opportunities are scarce and women traditionally do not work outside the house, this was a rare opportunity to earn some money. The majority of group members were coming from landless households, in many cases the women were heading the household. For their work they did not only receive a salary for every day worked, they also received part of the profit made during the construction works. Upon conclusion of their works, many of the women joined MIDPCR’s partner NGOs who offered training and microcredit to support the women in taking up an income generating activity. While the women spent their daily salary on family consumption, many used the profit earned to purchase assets such as land to cultivate vegetables or livestock. So while the LCS work is a one-off opportunity, it can start a development path. Manju Rani, who is the sole income earner for herself and her little son, for example, used part of the BDT 25,000 (USD300) profit from constructing Mothertoli Bazaar to buy a milk cow and a calve. Some of the milk she uses for family consumption, the remaining milk she sells at the market. As all LCS members, Manju received a toll free card that enables her to sell her produce at the market without having to pay toll. Once she has raised the calve, she plans to sell it to buy a second milk cow. Ex-LCS members report that in addition to an increase in income and savings, the period of food shortage has been decreased, in some cases even eliminated, and many women used their building skills to improve their own houses. And they say, that their work and the fact that they now earn money has strengthened their self-confidence and position in the community. One ex-LCS member even decided to run in the Union Parishad elections. And won with a large majority. “We are now known as skilled persons”, said Manju, “and we know that we can stand on our own feed.”
In addition to creating employment opportunities for women, the roads and markets built under MIDPCR had another effect: they triggered a socio-economic development in the region, benefiting the entire community. Nowadays at the markets, people can purchase more or less the same products as in bigger cities, including seeds and other agricultural input. Markets are growing by additional shops, restaurants, pharmacies that are built through private investments. Shops and tea stalls are opening up alongside the road – all this creates additional employment opportunities, particularly for landless households. Surveys, conducted in the project area, shows the impact of the improved infrastructure on the life of rural people:
- Travel costs have decreased significantly, thus connecting remote villages to social services and the market. Passenger fares for motorized vehicles on project roads have decreased by 8% on market days and 38% on non-market days, while control roads show an increase of 134% and 88% respectively. A similar trend is observable for transport of goods.
- Travel time has decreased as the average speed of motorized vehicles has increased by 136% during dry season and 182% during monsoon and the average speed of non-motorized vehicles has increased by 114% during dry season and 155% during monsoon.
- 95% stated that the access to health service has improved.
- 87% responded that the access to schools has become better (and some respondents added, that the quality of teachers has improved as they are now willing to be posted in this area), school enrollment in primary schools nearly doubled between 2006 and 2013.
- 87% answered that access to markets has strongly improved and that goods and services have become more affordable.
- 50% stated that mobility of women has increased, respondents also said that women can now travel alone. A large part of respondents on the other hand said, that women still not travel to nearby towns or markets. However, girls' enrolment in primary education more than tripled and women report improved access to maternal and child health care programs.
- 70% responded that their food security has improved, of which 40 said it has strongly improved. Respondents also mentioned the increased variety of available food.
- 75% indicated an increase in income since the construction of the road, with 26% mentioning a large improvement as new roads reduce travel time and increase accessibility of jobs, ultimately allowing increased income. In addition, the newly constructed roads have encouraged road based employment, such as different transportation modes and road maintenance for destitute women.
- Value of land has increased, varying strongly between 7% and 900%.
Building on this experience, the Government of Bangladesh and IFAD, in partnership with ADB and KfW will scale up MIDPCR’s infrastructure component in the Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project, which is expected to benefit 3.5 million people in selected Upazillas of 12 coastal districts.