The FINANCIAL — Representatives from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank Group, and the Governments of Australia and Kiribati gathered on March 1 to officially open the improved road network on South Tarawa.
“I would like to thank ADB, the Government of Australia and the World Bank for jointly funding this very important project with the Government of Kiribati,” Anote Tong, outgoing President of Kiribati, said at the opening ceremony in the capital, Tarawa. “This project will provide smoother and safer travel to clinics, markets and schools in Tarawa for almost half of my country’s population.”
Initiated in 2010, the US$57.5 million Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project is the largest economic infrastructure investment in the country since World War II. The World Bank is the largest co-funder of the project with US$27 million, the Government of Australia providing US$16.4 million (A$17.8 million), the ADB providing US$14.4 million, and the Government of Kiribati contributing US$2.6 million.
The road is a vital shared communal asset for 50,000 people, the entire population of South Tarawa, as it is the lone vehicular transport route on the atoll. The project is rehabilitating 32 kilometers of paved roads and upgrading 8 kilometers of feeder roads, securing access in key lengths of the journey between the seaport of Betio and the airport on Tarawa. The design includes the installation of footpaths, improved drainage, speed humps, solar street lighting, and road signage to improve safety. A comprehensive road safety campaign is also being launched as part of the improved road network, according to the World Bank.
The Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project is the World Bank’s first ever International Development Association-financed investment in Kiribati. “The South Tarawa road is a vital part of everyday life for the people of Kiribati; it is the true artery of the country, linking families to hospitals and health clinics, to schools and transport hubs,” said Franz Drees-Gross, the World Bank’s Country Director for the Pacific. “This road and its supporting infrastructure are great examples of how development partners, working together, can support transformative investments in Pacific island countries, and we’re proud to have played a vital role in ensuring it will serve the people of Kiribati well for many years to come”.
“The country’s most important road, joining the airport with the main seaport and running through an extremely narrow and densely populated area, was in a very poor condition,” said ADB Vice President Stephen Groff. “Improving this road network will make Kiribati’s transportation system more efficient and lift overall quality of life” said Mr. Groff.
Australian High Commissioner to Kiribati Bruce Cowled added that the road project has also helped build the capacity of the Ministry of Public Works and Utilities and is putting in place a sustainable maintenance strategy to ensure the road continues to serve as the essential link in Kiribati for the coming decades. “Employment opportunities for both the construction and maintenance aspects of the road have not only offered a source of income to the people of Kiribati, but more importantly have built valuable skills for the local workforce to use in the future” said Mr. Cowled.
Prior to road construction, extensive surveys had to be carried out for unexploded ordinances, as Betio was the site of significant fighting during World War II.
Since Kiribati joined ADB in 1974, ADB has provided the country with assistance worth over $40 million – more than half in the past 5 years. ADB anticipates further scaling up its engagement with Kiribati in the future.
ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region.