The World Bank is funding the first stretch of Yemen’s new highway, which will connect the port city of Aden in the south with the Saudi Arabian border near Saada in the north, a total length of 710 km.
World Bank grant funds will pay for the southernmost section of 55km from the port of Aden to the town of Noubat Dokaim. Meant to serve mostly long-distance traffic, the new highway will be roughly parallel to the existing road, which carries a dangerous combination of speedy, long-distance traffic and slower, local traffic, including bicycles and carts. About 18,000 vehicles use it every day.
Today’s traffic is lower than usual due to security and economic problems, but as conditions improve in Yemen, the traffic will increase. The new highway will serve the dual purpose of preparing for better times as well helping to usher them in.
For Yemen’s transitional government, the 710 km Saada to Aden Yemen Corridor Highway (of which the Bank-funded section of the highway is a part), is a flagship project aimed at bringing north and south Yemen closer together—physically, economically, politically—following 14 months of popular consultation, known as the National Dialogue, that ended in January of this year.
As such, the highway’s appeal has so far bridged Yemen’s political divides and attracted broad public support, promising—as it does—to reduce the time it takes to travel by road to towns, markets, hospitals, and schools.
The highway is also part of a greater process of regional integration: In time, it should link key towns and cities along a north-south axis through Yemen’s mountainous terrain, making it possible to drive from Aden to Yemen’s northern border with Saudi Arabia, in seven hours.
The Saudi Fund for Development is paying for the next section of highway—from Noubat Dokaim to the city of Taiz of 85 km.
The process of identifying international and Yemeni contractors meeting the specifications required for being eligible to bid for building the World Bank-funded section of the highway, is underway. As is the process of verifying land ownership and agricultural assets ahead of the necessary land acquisition along the 140 km stretch from Aden to Taiz.
“In the immediate sense, what many Yemenis need most today are jobs,” said Andreas Schliessler, the Bank’s Task Team Leader for the project. “The highway construction will create many labor opportunities in the area where the highway is built ... Manual labor is about 85 percent of all jobs created on a construction project, and is typically hired from nearby areas.” A nearby cement factory, quarries, and farmers supplying food, are also likely to benefit from a boost in sales during construction.
Along with creating jobs and new business opportunities, the project will face the challenging task of working with local communities to establish a clear path.
The environmental and social assessment carried out for the stretch of the highway running between Aden and Taiz shows that 74 villages or small settlements with about 2,685 households (or 31,695 people)—farmers, laborers, small business owners and their families—are likely to be affected by land acquisition, which is needed prior to the construction of the highway.
Up to 2,789 people will need to move, a number considered relatively small for a road project of this size.
The greater impact is on agricultural land: all or parts of about 1,300 agricultural plots are due to be bought by the Yemeni government. The impact of this is in some ways offset, according to the World Bank’s Project Appraisal Document (PAD), “by the pattern of multiple landholdings by many households”.
Clearing the road alignment will involve either replanting or chopping down more than 433,000 trees—most of them qat, the narcotic leaf popular among Yemenis, for which farmers will be compensated.
In doing the land acquisition, Yemen’s government will first try to compensate in kind—land with land—and only if that is not possible, compensation will be monetary. The same goes for housing: wherever possible, a house to be demolished will be compensated with the building of a new house.
The construction budget includes money for the contractor to build new houses to replace those that need to be demolished.
The compensation and resettlement budget, including temporary support to affected persons, is about US$19 million and is funded by the Government of Yemen.
A resettlement plan has been published by the Ministry of Public Works and Highways on its internet website and is also made available in print at the offices of the same Ministry. It includes a grievance redress mechanism.
Raising money to build the rest of the highway is unlikely to be a problem for Yemen, with strong interest already apparent from various Arab donors and funding agencies, as well as from South Korea. “For now, however”, says Andreas Schliessler, the project’s leader at the World Bank, “the biggest challenges are to ensure peace and stability in the project area so that the construction works can actually happen, and to address the acute shortage of diesel fuel in the market, because the road contractor will need a lot of diesel fuel”.