DOUALA September 8, 2010 — Standing on his veranda, Robert Mebuna can’t believe his eyes. As chairman of the Committee on Hygiene and Sanitation for the Cité de la Paix district, he views the completion of the Douala Infrastructure Project as a dream come true.
“Look at these small businesses that are now booming and the large construction projects that are sprouting like mushrooms,” he said. “The district has been revitalized, rent has improved everywhere, and the road passes right in front of my veranda.”
The project sought to improve the deplorable state of a key road network and to ease congestion on roads leading to the port. The International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank Group that provides assistance to low-income countries, put US$ 71.5 million towards the project. Other partners include the Agence Française de Développement, the government of Cameroon, and the Urban Community of Douala.
Today, travel time has been reduced by an estimated 87 percent while the daily volume of vehicle travel has increased.
The city of Douala is one of the main industrial centers of Central Africa. As Cameroon’s main outlet to the sea, the port of Douala handles approximately six million metric tons of cargo per year. It is the point of departure or arrival for more than 95 percent of the country’s total imports and exports, and most goods destined for neighboring landlocked countries, especially the Central African Republic, Chad and, to a lesser extent, the Republic of Congo, pass through this port.
The economic crisis that hit Cameroon between 1985 and 1995 had a significant impact on the transport sector in Douala. It led to a reduction in the volume of public investment and expenditure on infrastructure maintenance, resulting in a significant deterioration of the network.
“Our living conditions were way below what would be expected in a city,” recalls Georges Ekande Moukoko, head of the Cité de la Paix district, with some degree of bitterness. “Whenever it rained, the roads became so muddy that in order to leave your house you had to carry two pairs of shoes: one to walk in the mud, and the other for paved areas,” he added.
Transportation became difficult, especially to and from the port and the industrial areas. Travel was costly and time-consuming for workers, trucks, and goods. As a result, the efficiency and competitiveness of the port and city of Douala decreased. Many main arteries were barely passable, which caused major bottlenecks.
Improving the efficiency of the transport system
In 2001, the Urban Community launched an emergency rehabilitation program to address the most critical urban transport needs. It is this initiative that gave rise to the Douala Infrastructure Project. In 2002 the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank approved US$56 million in funding for the project.
The project’s objectives were clear: to help the Cameroonian Government and the Urban Community of Douala improve the efficiency of the city’s transport system. This included an emergency rehabilitation program for the main roads connecting the port and the industrial areas, as well as strengthening road management and maintenance capacities. To date, the project has improved almost 28 kilometers of roads. The project was implemented over the course of seven years, from 2002 to 2009.
In addition to reduced travel times, drivers experienced a dramatic decrease in the premature aging of vehicles caused by roads in deplorable condition. Road improvements reduced vehicle operating costs by 59 percent. The volume of traffic on roads impacted by the project also increased. At the beginning of the project, approximately 155,000 vehicles traveled these roads on a daily basis. Today the daily average is 223,000 vehicles.
Cost savings from the project helped finance the development and upgrading of depressed areas, especially the provision of basic services to the poor: 500 meters of paved roads, 1,080 meters of walkways, 1,350 meters of pipe borne water network, 3,800 meters of electricity cabling supplying 16 street lights and the construction of more than 800 meters length of sewage drain. These have led to noticeable improvements for residents. “Now we are safe from armed robbery aggressions and have easy access to safe drinking water and our children no longer suffer from waterborne diseases, like dysentery, diarrhea, or worms,” says a relieved Robert Mebuna.
His enthusiasm is shared by Peter Taniform, the World Bank project leader. “The project’s impact is obvious and significant, and we are pleased,” Taniform says. Lessons learnt are being replicated in another Bank project in five major cities in Cameroon.