In a modern, fast-moving and technology-driven world, one can hardly imagine how a road, a simple road, can change lives. In Morocco, only 54% of the rural population had access to an all-weather road in 2005. This means that a large portion of the rural population did not have access to basic social services, such as education or health, was unable to reach markets and find opportunities. For them, moving from one point to another required a thoughtful decision as the journey could be long, costly and sometimes even risky.
In 1995, the government launched a nation-wide program (Programme National de Routes Rurales) with the assistance of the World Bank to improve access to roads for the rural population. 10 years of implementation had shown encouraging results, releasing landlocked populations from total isolation. Consequently, in 2005, the government decided to ambitiously broaden the objectives of its program to provide most of the rural population with access to an all-weather road. The government called on the technical and financial support of various donors, including the World Bank. Through a programmatic investment, the World Bank provided a support package of a EUR 180 million through three loans approved in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
In 2005, the quality of the rural road network was hindered by inadequate reliability, as many of the roads were cut for several days and sometimes weeks, because of severe weather conditions especially in mountainous areas. Due to low population densities and poor road conditions, private transport companies would limit their services to basic and once-in-a day pick up.
The program was three-fold: expanding the density of the all-weather rural roads network throughout the Kindgom, curbing the accessibility gap between provinces and ensuring the development of an enabling environment for better transport services in rural areas. It also aimed to give greater voice to the populations and local authorities for the selection of priority roads and greater autonomy to manage all implementation aspects on the ground.
“Our support to this program was at the core of our mandate to reduce poverty and improve shared prosperity. Every time we travel to the regions targeted by the program, we can witness the incredible impact of this project on people’s living conditions. From stranded, isolated and poor rural inhabitants, they are now able to move around, access markets and basic services such as going to the hospital or taking their children to school” says Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Maghreb Country Director. “This is the result of sustained engagement with the Government of Morocco over more than ten years” she added.
And today’s results can speak to the achievements of the program. With over 13 years of implementation, the program managed to improve 15,500 km of rural roads, particularly in the most-underserved regions of Morocco, thereby increasing from 54% to almost 80% the share of the rural population having access to an all-weather road. A recent survey of the beneficiaries shows that, thanks to this program, the rate of primary school enrollment in rural areas has substantially increased: an increase of 7.4% in rural girls schooling is particularly encouraging. Similarly, women significantly benefited from the program: for them, this translated into a significant increase in the number of visits to health facilities and a substantial reduction of tedious chores as cooking butane gas is now delivered to their homes, relieving them from spending hours collecting firewood.
Beyond the impact on beneficiaries, the World Bank support helped streamline monitoring and evaluation throughout the program implementation phases to allow regular evaluation of outcomes as well as physical achievement. Institutional capacity building was also strengthened in the central administration resulting in better management and monitoring of the different dimensions of program implementation from road works to addressing citizens’ feedback and grievances.
Closing its project in late 2017, the World Bank team observed the positive impact of the program, even in unsuspected ways and areas, and took away an important lesson, as one of the beneficiaries had put it: “the road to opportunities starts with an all-weather road”.