When Do Rural Roads Benefit the Poor and How?

Evaluation Document | 28 February 2006

This study aims to provide a concrete documentation of the correlation between rural roads and poverty reduction.

Participatory poverty assessments have long identified remoteness and isolation as critical components of poverty. Although it is widely assumed that investments in rural roads reduce poverty, there is little evidence of the ways in which these impacts occur or what their determinants are. Through the collection of empirical evidence from a cluster of case studies drawn from past Asian Development Bank (ADB) operations in Indonesia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka, the study addresses this void.

Purpose of the study

This study explores the ways in which rural roads impact poverty and what the determinants of these impacts are. It uses in-depth information from six case study villages through which ADB-financed rural roads traversed. The study methodology was carefully designed to maximize the use of both qualitative and quantitative information available for a retrospective impact evaluation of this nature. The conclusions, lessons, and recommendations emanating from the study could help ADB and other development organizations to improve the design and implementation of rural road components to achieve sustainable benefits for the poor.

Summary of findings

  • In all case study projects, the poor and very poor benefited substantially from rural roads through access to state services, as well as access of services to the villages. However economic benefits achieved were clearly different for different socioeconomic groups.
  • Careful consideration of economic determinants (such as climate, agricultural potential, spatial position and proximity to networks, and world market commodity prices, as well as social structure and concentration of assets) would enable better assessment of the potential for poverty reduction through projects such as the ones for roads. Possible complementary measures could also be considered to increase positive impacts.
  • Improvements to the primary village network of paths, tracks, culverts, and access routes that reduce the burden of basic household and productive tasks, as well as the increased availability of intermediate modes of transport with larger carrying capacity to collect water, firewood, etc., are likely to have a greater initial impact on the well-being of the poor than improved availability of motorized transport services, which they do not or cannot afford to use. Therefore, improving transport within a village is as important to the poor and very poor as providing access to markets outside the village.