FEATURE STORY

Making Kiribati’s One Main Road Safer

November 22, 2016

How important can one road really be? When it's the biggest and one of the only roads in the entire country, it's crucial. The South Tarawa Road in Kiribati is the lifeblood for more than 50,000 people of this atoll nation. And as Tenneke, one of the country's ambulance drivers explains, the condition of the road can be the difference between life and death.


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kiribati has only one main road connecting the East and the West of Tarawa, the main island in the country.
  • The South Tarawa Road has been in poor condition for a very long time, making travel slow and unsafe.
  • A project has now rehabilitated over 36 kilometers of road, making travel safer for drivers, but also pedestrians and cyclists.

Tarawa, Kiribati, November 22, 2016 – The South Tarawa Road is, in no uncertain terms, an important road. That is because it’s the only road in South Tarawa, connecting more than 50,000 people between Betio seaport in the west and Bonriki and the international airport in the East, making it a lifeline for those who live along it.

Tarawa is the capital of Kiribati (pronounced Ki-ri-bas), one of the most remote countries in the world, with 33 coral islands spread across an area the size of India. Of the 100,000 i-Kiribati (people from Kiribati), more than half call Tarawa home, making it extremely densely populated.

Kiribati’s main road has been in poor condition for a very long time

For many years, though, the road was in extremely poor condition. Much of the road had not been rehabilitated since the 1970s. With heavy rain and significantly increased use, large potholes formed, making travel along the road slow, uncomfortable, and dangerous, particularly after rain. During the dry season, excessive dust would collect along the road and was a major contributor to upper respiratory illnesses for the people of Tarawa.


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The South Tarawa Road

Photo: Evan Wasuka/World Bank

" Some patients have died on the road as we couldn’t make it to the hospital in time "

Tenneke Matireei

Ambulance driver

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Tenneke Matireei, an ambulance driver in Tarawa

Photo: Evan Wasuka/World Bank

Tenneke Matireei, a local ambulance driver, knows just how important having a good road is.

“My work had been tough due to the bad condition of the road, particularly when considering the comfort and urgency of each patient we transport.

“You have to drive very slow… Some patients have died on the road as we couldn’t make it to the hospital in time.”


Fixing the road brings smoother and safer rides for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists

Recognizing the urgent need to fix the road, the Government of Kiribati partnered with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the Government of Australia to repair the road, and prepare for its ongoing maintenance. 

The Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project has now rehabilitated over 32 kilometers of the South Tarawa Road, and upgraded six kilometers of feeder roads. Footpaths have been installed and pavement marking added to improve pedestrian safety; improved drainage means less flooding and damage from heavy rain; and solar street lighting, and road signage was added to increase safety. 

“Kiribati is one of the most remote countries in the world and has limited local products that can be used for the roadworks,” said Oliver Whalley, joint Manager for the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. “Everything, except for water, some locally sourced aggregates and sand, had to be shipped in, creating challenges in terms of cost, transport time and managing resources.”

Despite these challenges, the road is now in a much better condition.

“There is definitely a big improvement now,” said Matireei. “Before the road reconstruction it was literally impossible to drive faster than 10 kilometers an hour. But today we can carry out our service more efficiently and effectively.”

The roadworks not only provide a smoother ride for drivers, but also a safer route for pedestrians and cyclists. Fifty-seven kilometers of footpaths have been added to provide a safe space to walk and 36 bus shelters provide shelter from the rain, wind or sun, for those waiting for a bus. To promote safe driving speeds, 114 speed bumps have also been installed.

The significantly improved road conditions mean vehicles – including Matireei’s ambulance – require less frequent repairs, saving money for car owners and families.

“Today, I feel that the patients we transport feel more comfortable because the road is in a much better condition.” said Matireei. “Our fleet of ambulances will also last longer now that the road is complete, because back then they would not last a year before breaking down.”

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Workers paving footpaths on the South Tarawa Road. Photo: Oliver Whalley/World Bank

 

Ensuring that the road will last

To keep the road in good condition going forward, the project is supporting routine maintenance through local contractors. By providing training, operational support and the purchasing of basic equipment, minor roadworks can be done by local contractors.

“We will support and train them so they can clean the drainage system, clear the roadway, fill potholes on unsealed roads, report to the Ministry of Public Works any cracks, potholes or broken edges in the pavement of sealed roads, and maintain the signage,” said Pierre Graftieaux, joint Manager for the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. “These routine maintenance jobs will make the roadworks more sustainable, while at the same time reduce the cost to the government and create employment opportunities.”

Initiated in 2010, the US$60.4 million Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project is the largest economic infrastructure investment in the country since World War II. It is funded through US$27 million from the World Bank – its first-ever International Development Association-financed investment in Kiribati – US$16.4 million from the Government of Australia, US$14.4 million from the ADB, and US$2.6 million from the Government of Kiribati.

Image

Workers paving footpaths on the South Tarawa Road. Photo: Oliver Whalley/World Bank

 

Ensuring that the road will last

To keep the road in good condition going forward, the project is supporting routine maintenance through local contractors. By providing training, operational support and the purchasing of basic equipment, minor roadworks can be done by local contractors.

“We will support and train them so they can clean the drainage system, clear the roadway, fill potholes on unsealed roads, report to the Ministry of Public Works any cracks, potholes or broken edges in the pavement of sealed roads, and maintain the signage,” said Pierre Graftieaux, joint Manager for the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. “These routine maintenance jobs will make the roadworks more sustainable, while at the same time reduce the cost to the government and create employment opportunities.”

Initiated in 2010, the US$60.4 million Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project is the largest economic infrastructure investment in the country since World War II. It is funded through US$27 million from the World Bank – its first-ever International Development Association-financed investment in Kiribati – US$16.4 million from the Government of Australia, US$14.4 million from the ADB, and US$2.6 million from the Government of Kiribati.

Image

Workers paving footpaths on the South Tarawa Road. Photo: Oliver Whalley/World Bank

 

Ensuring that the road will last

To keep the road in good condition going forward, the project is supporting routine maintenance through local contractors. By providing training, operational support and the purchasing of basic equipment, minor roadworks can be done by local contractors.

“We will support and train them so they can clean the drainage system, clear the roadway, fill potholes on unsealed roads, report to the Ministry of Public Works any cracks, potholes or broken edges in the pavement of sealed roads, and maintain the signage,” said Pierre Graftieaux, joint Manager for the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. “These routine maintenance jobs will make the roadworks more sustainable, while at the same time reduce the cost to the government and create employment opportunities.”

Initiated in 2010, the US$60.4 million Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project is the largest economic infrastructure investment in the country since World War II. It is funded through US$27 million from the World Bank – its first-ever International Development Association-financed investment in Kiribati – US$16.4 million from the Government of Australia, US$14.4 million from the ADB, and US$2.6 million from the Government of Kiribati.