Build but Not with Reckless Abandon



There is a cost to a statist approach to economic development. It is not only inept at failing to allocate resources to a point that they are used the most productively. It is also too narrow sighted to consider the costs to individuals and the environment, writes AMBESSAW ASSEGUED(assegued@anfilo.com).


Today’s bridges and roads are financed by huge loans from financial institutions or countries such as China and are usually built by Chinese contractors.

There is a new gravel road being built in Debre Birhan, 130 kilometres north of Addis Abeba. Its purpose is to link the main campus of Debre Birhan University with a new campus that is being built around Kebele 4.

The entire construction activity at this location is puzzling because it serves no current public service, and there is no apparent reason for the project other than to spend eight million Birr of public money on a contorted justification of linking two university campuses.

This highway starts at an oblique angle from a nearby gravel road and travels parallel to it for around 600m before it terminates behind a group of homes, in the middle of an open field and inside the gates of the Debre Brehan Blanket Factory.

If the intent is to connect the two campuses, there are alternate routes that can be used. The most obvious one is to improve and use an existing access road and several other gravel roads that are already there in the area.

The first signs that there is something amiss came when men arrived one morning and started to hack and chop at a row of matured juniper shrubs that line the stone walls of the factory.

After a few days of hiatus, a bulldozer arrives in the middle of the day and starts to demolish portions of a clubhouse that belongs to the factory and the stone walls, leaving in its wake a pile of rubbles and dust.

In a week or two, a bulldozer returns joined by an engineer, no more than 24 or 26 in age, who appears to be in charge of the construction. In fact, the entire project is managed by youngsters in their early twenties. When the machine begins to plough the earth, the engineer stands to the side and is busy walking around the wreckage, opening his jacket, brushing off his pants and doing everything he can to avoid a group of onlookers who have gathered behind him.

“Are they demolishing those homes?” an elderly man asks, turning his gaze in the direction of a collection of homes that stood along the alignment of the new road and where the machine is scraping and gouging the ground, and sending plumes of dust into the air.

“No. They don’t have the budget to extend the road to the houses.  They are doing this piece because they got some funding and they have to use it up this year.” There is a little pause and the engineer continues, “which one is your home?”

The old man’s home is spared, and the group take up the point and discuss how fortunate he was that the road passes just a breath away from the back of his house.

“You don’t have to worry. Even if your house is demolished they will give you compensations,” but the crowd disregards the engineer’s superfluous assurances.

The fact that a new 24m wide gravel road is being constructed just a few centimetres away from the back of homes or that homes can easily be demolished is accepted with a shrug. The fact that residents and owners near this construction project site have not been consulted in advance; that the road serves no present public interest; and that no public deliberations nor any public venues are provided for discussions is not pointed out.

That no mitigation measures have been considered to address impacts on the human and physical environment is a staggering and astonishing phenomenon, particularly in light of the nature of the source of funding for the project.

As it turns out, it is the World Bank’s (WB) money that is used to construct this road to nowhere. Distinct from Chinese loans, WB funded development projects, whatever the scale, require impact mitigation measures on the human and physical environments.

The WB mandates that projects identify environmental impacts of a project and integrate preventive and mitigation measures in the project plan, implementation and operation, to improve the overall environmental performance.

Furthermore, the WB typically requires users of its funds to implement operational safeguards on the environment including, “topography, hydrology, water quality; erosion, impact on flora and fauna, impact of heavy machinery used in road construction that harms vegetation and soils, and dust and noise impacts.”

The list is much longer.

Not one of these mitigation measures is in sight at this project. The current practice of using public funds, worse still borrowed, with recklessness abandon is frightening. Officials ought to be able to keep the public trust closer to their heart, and quickly expunge the nation from blatant abuses of its resources.

 



By AMBESSAW ASSEGUED(assegued@anfilo.com)


Published on Jun 16,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 946]


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