When the time came for Hitihami Nandawathi, a homemaker in the district of Monaragala, to give birth to her fourth child, she needed to think carefully about how she would get to the doctor. Because of the bad roads, it took a day to get to the clinic. A month before delivery, she moved in with her uncle in Bibile to be closer to the hospital and stayed there for a month. She acknowledged it was both inconvenient and expensive. Until 2004, Hitihami and women like her living in rural Sri Lanka faced a similar predicament. Access to good medical care, business opportunities, and transportation of farm products to market was hampered by poor roads.
Even though Sri Lanka has the greatest road density among South Asian countries, its infrastructure suffered from neglect as a result of decades of civil conflict. Contributing to the disrepair and deterioration of roads was the increasing traffic congestion in the national roads, which compelled the government to increase road capacity - the country saw traffic increase by 6% every year.
Building a lasting partnership towards the future
In 2004, the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) sought the World Bank’s re-engagement in the road sector. The Government's development strategy highlighted the urgent need to develop its roads and increase connectivity and interaction between the provinces for both social integration and economic development. This coincided with the World Bank’s assistance strategy that supported investment in roads as an essential infrastructure development area for pro-poor growth linked to shared prosperity. Both strategies emphasized the importance of developing private industry for road construction and maintenance. Together with other development partners, the World Bank helped Sri Lanka reconstruct its national and rural roads through the Road Sector Assistance Project (RSAP). RSAP’s development objective was to lower transportation costs through the sustainable delivery of an efficient national road system that serves the needs of road users and the Sri Lankan public.
The projects focus was to address the poor condition of the road network by rehabilitating key strategic roads across the entire country to provide overall connectivity and quick access to markets. The project also helped maintain existing roads through designing and refining systems to manage them better. This has helped create the capacity within the Roads Development Authority and the industry to reach a new standard of quality that has been sustained through a shift in culture. The establishment of the Road maintenance Trust Fund enabled the transparent allocation of resources and efficient monitoring of road maintenance. The project focused not only on the rehabilitation of roads but also steered towards achieving overall sustainability.