1. Home
  2. Global

Watch out for the roads

[Lebanon] Bad roads and poor housing: a common scene in southern suburbs.
Invest in unpaved roads rather than upgrading existing ones (Majdoline Hatoum/IRIN)

Disaster reduction experts have been calling on countries to “climate-proof” infrastructure like roads, but until now, there have been no studies showing the scale or importance of these interventions.

A recent study by the Intergovernmental Group of Twenty-Four says developing countries will have to spend about US$200-300 billion per year by 2020 to construct public infrastructure - like bridges, power supplies and roads - that are not only environmentally friendly but can also withstand extreme changes in temperature and rainfall.

The study, co-authored by economist Nicholas Stern, says developing countries are spending $0.8-0.9 trillion per year on infrastructure, the majority of which is financed by domestic budgets. To keep up with population growth, cover existing gaps, and make infrastructure climate-resilient as well, countries will have to spend a total of $1.8-2.3 trillion per year by 2020.

Roads critical

A good road network, the basis of most infrastructures, is critical for the development of any country. Roads are essential to trade, transportation, and the provision of food, healthcare and education, promoting economic growth at every level.

''Above certain temperature thresholds, paved roads weaken, causing rapid degradation even under normal or light traffic loads''

Researchers from the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have joined hands with the United Nations University-World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) to take a closer look at how climate change could affect roads in the developing world, using Mozambique as an example. 

Food supply in Mozambique is already constrained by the lack of adequate roads linking the big commercial farms in the north to markets in the south. Climate change threatens what roads exist with frequent and intense flooding and high temperatures, researchers said.

Roads are sensitive to extreme heat. "Above certain temperature thresholds, paved roads weaken, causing rapid degradation even under normal or light traffic loads. Perhaps more importantly, a higher frequency and severity of floods will increase road washouts - already a serious problem in many countries," said the study.

The MIT researchers recommend gradually moving towards road designs that accommodate higher temperatures and follow rainfall trends (whether wetter or drier). Rather than embarking on a generalized upgrade of roads, they recommend countries spend their resources on improving "more vulnerable infrastructure, such as unpaved roads in flood-prone zones,” which “could provide positive net benefits in the face of a more extreme future climate".

An earlier UNU-WIDER study found that Africa as a whole could have to spend at least $2.3 billion per year to repair and maintain roads damaged from temperature and rainfall changes related to climate change through to 2100.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

It was The New Humanitarian’s investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that uncovered sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led the World Health Organization to launch an independent review and reform its practices.

This demonstrates the important impact that our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and shine a light on similar abuses. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.