The Asian Develop-ment Bank's (ADB) resident represent-ative, Urooj Malik, knows
the limitat-ions of Cambodia's major 'highways' only too well.
"Recently I went from Sihanoukville to Poipet. We had to take a boat to Koh
Kong because the road was so bad, and then we traveled north by Thai roads. The
difference in the quality of the infra-structure was just incredible," he
That is a story people who live and work in rural Cambodia know only too
The new Japanese-funded bridge at Kampong Cham due to open December 4.
The 118 kilometer journey from Takhmau to Kirivong along Route 2,
for example, can take up to five hours in the best 4WD vehicle. By motodup or
oxcart the trip is even more exhausting.
However with funding from the
ADB and other donors, relief for those who live, work or travel in the more
remote parts of Cambodia is on the way, says the Ministry of Public Works and
"Before the war we had 34,000 kilometers of paved road
in Cambodia. Now we've got only 350 kilometers," says MPWT project director,
Chhin Kong Hean. "Now if we want to go to Rattanakiri we can't go. And if we
want to go to Preah Vihear we can't go, because we don't have a road [suitable]
for all seasons."
The MPWT aims to rehabilitate around 1,000 kilometers
of road each year until 2005. It expects that the country's network of major
roads will by then be completed. Major milestones should be finished even
We expect that by the end of 2003 we will be able to drive to Ho Chi Minh
City or Bangkok," says MPWT's Chhin Kong Hean.
As any skilful politicians
knows, roads mean votes. Prime Minister Hun Sen has exploited the dire state of
the country's roads this year. In one well-known case he loaded a bus with his
ministers and forced them to endure an uncomfortable ride on Cambodia's potholed
roads while berating them over their lack of progress.
For the Prime
Minister, the war on roads is a 'win-win' situation. If the Funcinpec Minister
for Public Works and Transport, Khy Tainglim, can speed up the improvements to
Cambodia's roads, the PM can take the credit. If he fails, then the minister
will doubtless get the blame.
The PM got agreement in a November 13
meeting with Thai Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra that will see the Thais fund
two roads linking Thai provinces to Cambodian towns. The first will run from Si
Sa Ket via Anlong Veng to Siem Reap; the second from Trat to Koh
But Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker and former chair of the public works
committee, Son Chhay, is critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen's interference in
the portfolio and skeptical about the 2005 completion date.
Minister says one thing then he does something else. You have to give the full
responsibility to the minister to do the job. Sometimes the company will go
straight to the Prime Minister and he will sign the proposal letter which
violates all the procedures," says Chhay. If and when the contractor does a poor
job, he continues, the minister can only protest that the decision had nothing
to do with him.
Chhay is also critical of the government's attitude
towards privatizing roads. Earlier this year the government announced it was
handing Route 4, built with US taxpayers' money, to a private company to operate
as a tollroad. Chhay expects he will see more privatization of donor funded
roads in the future.
ADB's Malik agrees that is possible.
not-too-distant future, on the country to country roads where the traffic
[volume] is high and where there is trade, tourism and so on, Cambodia needs to
consider tollroads. Eventually those roads will need to be widened and funds for
that will probably need to come from private investment," he says.
of Cambodia's road network was built by the French during the 1920s and 1930s.
Since then it has been subject to floods, war, land mines, ever-increasing
traffic volume, overloaded trucks and, for much of the network, a distinct lack
Pressure on the dilapidated system is increasing rapidly.
Despite Cambodia's extensive network of waterways, roads are still the dominant
transport route for most people. According to the government's draft
Socio-Economic Development Plan, 65 percent of passenger kilometers per year are
travelled by road. Almost 70 percent of freight goes by road.
for the MPWT is that all forms of traffic are rapidly expanding. Between 1994
and 1999, cargo volume on Cambodia's roads grew by 18 percent per year while
passenger traffic more than tripled.
Large sections of major highways are
maintained only by locals who spend their days filling in some of the larger
potholes in exchange for tips from passing motorists. On other stretches the
potholes are so large and waterlogged they have families of ducks living in
Almost 40 percent of the ADB's half billion dollar portfolio of
loans to Cambodia is for transport. Much of that is for roads, and roads don't
come cheap. Simply to rehabilitate one kilometer of highway costs around
$200,000. To rebuild costs much more and is still well beyond the country's
The original French highways are between four and six meters wide,
which is too narrow for contemporary needs. Under rehabilitation projects the
roads are being resurfaced and widened to 11 meters.
particular challenges for road builders. Most of the land surface is comprised
of 'dispersive clay', a silty soil which erodes easily. Flooding causes further
problems by washing away large sections of poorly maintained highways and
slowing down the rehabilitation work carried out by road contractors. Then there
are landmines and other unexploded ordinance that must be cleared from the roads
before construction can begin.
Several of Cambodia's major highways are
forced to play a dual role of being both a road and a dike during flooding. The
flooding of the Tonle Sap, for example, is only contained by Route 6 to the
north and Route 5 to the south.
During the dry season, contractors place
a one or two centimeter layer of bitumen and stone over the existing highway to
seal and protect the road surface. With proper maintenance the road should last
around ten years.
Maintenance is an ongoing and contentious issue.
Although the banks fund road repairs, they treat maintenance as a problem for
government. The Ministry of Economy and Finance has proven reluctant to release
funds to the MPWT with the result that expensively rehabilitated roads
This is particularly evident with overloaded trucks.
After a dozen bridges collapsed and large sections of road were washed away
during this year's floods, the Prime Minister angrily blamed overloaded logging
trucks for their exponential effect on road wear.
The MPWT has teams
monitoring overloaded trucks and is investigating setting up a network of weigh
stations. Weigh stations and fines discourage overloaded trucks, but so far have
not stopped them.
In February the Post paid a one hour visit to a weigh
station on Route 4. All of the 20 trucks spot checked there were between five
and twelve tons overweight.
"We are in constant dialogue with the
government on addressing the issue of damage to the roads. Trucks are
consistently running right over the legal limit," said the ADB's Malik. Roads,
he says, are an essential building block of development.
demonstrated many times that roads provide enormous benefits in terms of access
to markets, to health services and education," he said, before sounding a note
of caution. "However, we also need to bear in mind ways to avoid collateral
damage. We don't want illegal logs going along those roads and we have to be
cognizant of the huge HIV/AIDS problem."
Where, when, how much
The ADB is the largest single contributor to road funding in Cambodia.
Through its Primary Roads Project it is contributing to the rehabilitation of
large sections of Routes 5, 6 and 7, and making Route 1 to Vietnam a major
transport route. It will also contribute around $40 million in emergency flood
repairs, and has agreed in principle to link Sisophon with Poipet on the Thai
border - although Hun Sen seeks direct funding from Thailand for this.
The 577 kilometers of roads restored under the Primary Roads Project
will be finished by 2003 with funding of $68 million from the ADB and the $20
million shortfall coming from the government. The project will make Siem Reap,
Battambang and Poipet accessible by car, bus or motorbike .
along Route 7 will make Kratie easily accessible by car for the first time in
decades via the new Japanese-funded road and bridge at Kampong Cham. The bridge
will open December 4.
Kong Hean said the MPWT is currently seeking
Chinese funds to go beyond Kratie to Stung Treng and eventually Laos. Other
sections of Route 6 to Siem Reap are being restored with $47 million from the
World Bank and Japanese grant aid.
Route 1 from Neak Leung to the
Vietnamese border is already under construction with a $40 million ADB loan. A
$10 million Japanese grant will cover the remaining repairs to the road from
Neak Leung to Phnom Penh. This road, even in its current condition carries
around 2 million passengers per year. A savings of $10 million is expected from
the ADB section of this loan and has been earmarked for repairs to Route
The ADB has provided $600,000 to repair Phnom Penh to Takeo along
Route 2; from Takeo to the Vietnamese border will be rehabilitated with Japanese
grant aid in "the next few years" according to the MPWT which is in the process
of selecting a design consultant.
The World Bank will loan $50 million
for a road from Siem Reap to Preah Vihear. A feasibility study is currently
being carried out on that project.
Route 3 to Kampot is under repair.
Cash has come from emergency flood repair money provided by the World Bank. A
feasibility study on the road from Kampot to Prey Nup will be completed with
South Korean grant aid by the end of this year, with implementation scheduled
Long term plans include a coastal road from Ho Chi Minh to
Bangkok "in the next 20 years", said Kong Hean.