Lashed by rain, the Solomon Islands are rolling out a 'climate-proof' transportation infrastructure that will facilitate local trade and provide long-term construction and maintenance employment.

Makira, Solomon Islands ─ Noelyn Masuraa, tribal elder of the Kaonasugu Community on Makira Island, just east of the main island of Guadalcanal, is happy about the benefits a road project has brought.

"It's great to have the extra money for school fees for our five children. We also buy rice with the extra money and household items we can't normally afford."

─Evelyn Kona of the Kakabona community

"This project will soon connect our villages to the hospital and the market with new and all-weather roads and bridges," she says.

A more immediate benefit for community members is employment opportunities.

Women of the Kaonasugu community, for example, were engaged to make gabion baskets - wire cages filled with rocks - that are assembled to prevent erosion and provide support to road embankments. The women apply their weaving skills to the wire frames. A team of two women can assemble a single gabion basket in about 15 minutes.

"We enjoy the work and the money we earn allows us to pay school fees for our children," says community member Gloria Talo. The extra income also helps buy essential items such as kitchen supplies, sugar, and kerosene.

Climate-proofed bridges and roads

"The project allows some women to be able to participate in the Solomon Islands economy for the first time, and this is very good news."

─Seth Gukuna, Minister of Infrastructure Development

The changes taking place on Makira Island are part of the Solomon Islands Road Improvement (Sector) Project, which is underway and financed by the Government of Solomon Islands, ADB, Government of Australia, and Government of New Zealand. The project will rehabilitate 100 kilometers (km) of provincial and secondary roads and bridges, with maintenance arrangements that will provide long-term employment and income generating opportunities for local communities.

Makira Island is one of the rainiest places on Earth. A primary aim of the project is to climate proof the transport infrastructure against the wet conditions and against further climate change. The project will replace or upgrade 30 water crossings (bridges, culverts, and wet crossings), so that they can withstand extreme weather events that are considered likely to become more severe and frequent as a result of climate change.

"The climate change analysis completed under the project showed an urgent need to strengthen and protect infrastructure to better withstand future extreme weather events," says ADB project team leader Rishi Adhar, who describes climate proofing as an "integral component of the project."

Infrastructure climate proofing includes the construction of watercourse crossings that can cope with high flooding and river debris, strengthened bridges, stronger protection on bridge approaches, and sealed roads.

A newly completed high-level bridge at Maepua, for example, has changed life for the better by providing much needed connectivity to communities around Makira. The island's first high-level bridge is open to pedestrians and traffic, and communities on either side are now connected for the first time in years, allowing access to clinics, markets, and schools. A similar bridge under construction over the Magoha River, also on Makira, was on track for completion by April 2012.

Maintenance work

The project provides opportunities for rural communities to earn cash incomes through labor-based road maintenance. Community groups and unemployed youth use simple tools and equipment, rather than large machines, to carry out basic road maintenance such as pothole patching or vegetation clearing.

"One of the big strengths of the project is the income-earning opportunities it generates for communities who live in areas where the project is being done," says Seth Gukuna, Minister of Infrastructure Development. "The project allows women to participate in the Solomon Islands economy for the first time, and this is very good news."

An example is the Kakabona community in West Guadalcanal, where the project offers road maintenance work skills training for both men and women. Workers get paid about SI$800 per km. Some community groups have joint contracts, using the money for investments that benefit the entire community.

"It's great to have the extra money for school fees for our five children," says Evelyn Kona of Kakabona. "We also buy rice with the extra money and household items we can't normally afford."

Meanwhile, father of four Raymond Kasa of Western Province, has been hired by the project to help build culverts, mix cement, and lay down gravel on the road that runs by his village.

"Working with the community is good work. It feels like we own the road and a good road brings pride to our village," he says.