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Climate-Smart Road Rehab: A crucial upgrade for São Tomé and Príncipe

Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank

EN-1 Road connecting ​São Tomé and Guadalupe. 

Photo: Wilson Piassa / World Bank

The World Bank plays a critical role in transforming São Tomé and Príncipe's infrastructure by financing the Transport Sector Development and Coastal Protection Project. This project notably includes the rehabilitation of a 14-kilometer section of National Road 1 (EN-1), which connects the capital São Tomé to Guadalupe. The initiative aims to establish a new standard for climate-resilient road construction in the region. By focusing on enhancing road quality, incorporating improved drainage systems, sidewalks, and safety features, the project addresses both environmental and social concerns. This enhanced infrastructure is expected to significantly improve mobility, boost local businesses, and increase safety for the residents, setting a high benchmark for future road projects in the country.

Whenever there are heavy rains in the city of ​São Tomé and its surrounding areas, both citizens and government officials become anxious. Over the past few years, heavy rainfall has caused floods, landslides, and destroyed bridges, leaving a trail of destruction behind. Unfortunately, the existing infrastructures, especially the roads, were not designed to withstand the climatic shocks that have occurred or the ones that are likely coming in the future. It is projected that rainfall in the country will intensify over the coming decades due to climate change. Palliative repairs have not solved the problems of potholes and other dangers on the roads that connect the city to the neighborhoods and districts in the interior of the island. Therefore, the roads in ​STP have been a constant concern due to their frequent use, sometimes emergency in nature, and the limited resources available for their upkeep. The roads’ substandard quality and short lifespan have become a constant source of inconvenience and difficulty for the Santomeans and visitors, especially tourists, preventing them from enjoying a smooth and safe driving experience.

The rehabilitation and upgrade of the existing National Road 1 (EN1), which connects the capital to the northern towns, has just been completed for the first section and is designed to withstand the impact of changing weather patterns. The new section of the road is expected to provide a safe and efficient mode of transportation for all users, having been built to a high standard with a focus on sustainability and resilience. It will have significant impacts on the Santomeans, and it sets a new standard for future roads, improves mobility, and enhances businesses and residential areas.

New Standard of Road Construction

The World Bank took an important step towards establishing a standard for climate-resilient roads in  ​STP by financing the Transport Sector Development and Coastal Protection Project for  ​São Tomé and Príncipe, which includes the rehabilitation of a 14-kilometer section of the EN-1, stretching from ​São Tomé to Guadalupe. The project was implemented with a focus on repairing the main road and its sidewalks, drainage systems, bridges, and signage. In addition, the rehabilitation was carried out with utmost consideration for environmental and social concerns, which were prioritized throughout the project.

Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank
Helder Paquete, National Road Institute (INAE) Executive Director. Photo: Wilson Piassa/ World Bank

"The stretch of road from ​São Tomé to Guadeloupe is a benchmark for us. We expect all future roads to be built to at least this standard, with a focus on climate resilience. This includes the provision of sidewalks, high-quality asphalt, clear signage, renovated bridges, crosswalks with speed bumps, and all necessary safety features to prevent crashes. As we know, road crashes are a significant burden on the state, and reducing their number is crucial to saving both lives and money. The cost of rehabilitating a human being is quite high," said Helder Paquete, the National Executive Director of STP's National Road Institute (INAE).

The EN-1 project has set a new standard for building roads in São Tomé and Príncipe. All new roads must now meet a minimum quality standard, regardless of funding source. This is a positive development for the country's infrastructure and will benefit those who rely on its roads.

Impact on Mobility

Gomes, who has been working as a driver for 20 years, is the president of the Lemba District Taxi Drivers' Association. He has extensive knowledge of the EN-1 road and is familiar with its contours before and after its rehabilitation.

Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank
Gomes inside his minibus taxi. Photo: Wilson Piassa/ World Bank

We are very grateful that this road has been rehabilitated because we have suffered a lot. Working on this road was difficult, and our cars often got damaged, so we couldn't enjoy the results of our hard work. The difficulties were not only faced by us, taxi drivers, but also by our passengers as we were unable to cater to their needs promptly. The work that was done on this road went beyond our expectations. We were waiting for a new layer of asphalt to be laid, hoping that it would eliminate the problems of stones, dust, and potholes. However, what we got was a modern road complete with all the necessary signs and designated areas for loading and offloading passengers," said Gomes. "We would like to see more roads like this one built in other parts of the country to improve the work of our fellow taxi drivers. We are also interested in participating in the maintenance of this road. We request the city mayor to invite us to help clean the drainage system during the rainy season and prevent vandalism."

Motorcycle taxi riders, who also make their living on the road, have benefited greatly from the extensive road construction work. Carlos Andrade, a father of three, has been working as a moto-taxi rider in Guadalupe for 15 years. He is a member of the local moto-taxi association, which comprises 14 members.

"I have traveled to many districts within ​São Tomé, and I must admit that I have never seen a road that compares to this one. Before this road was constructed, it was just dust and stones and one of the worst roads. As a motorcycle taxi driver, it was very difficult for me to navigate through it, and I had to spend a lot on spare parts because the bikes were always broken. However, now the road has been well built and signposted, making it easy for us to travel. We are now called upon to be more careful when driving because there are children crossing the road. We can now work until 9 pm because of the lights. If someone enters this road, they'll feel as though they've entered a different country, as the road is well-lit and beautiful," said Carlos Andrade.

Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank
Carlos is picking up a passenger on another day of his moto taxi service. Photo: Wilson Piassa/ World Bank

Impact on Businesses

EN-1 is a crucial road in the STP as it links the industrial, agricultural, and fishery zones of the island. The road's poor condition caused difficulties for the people and affected the success of businesses. The EN-1 connects the capital to critical areas of the Santomean economy, including the fuel port, brewery, and tourist complexes.

Tiziano Pisoni is an Italian businessman who has been residing in STP for 32 years. He is the owner of Mucumbli Eco-Lodge, a resort situated in Neves along the EN-1 road. Before venturing into the tourism industry, he worked in road maintenance, and he was one of the people responsible for creating the Road Maintenance Interest Groups (GIMEs), the community associations performing road maintenance activities in STP. Therefore, he is well-equipped to share his expert opinion about the quality of the EN-1 road.

Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank
Tiziano Pisoni, owner of Mucumbli Lodge, along the EN-1 Road. Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank

The road from ​São Tomé to Guadalupe is undoubtedly the best in the country. Its quality is comparable to that of international and even European standards. Lighting along the road has significantly reduced the risk of accidents, making it a safe road to travel on. We have had our business in Neves for 12 years, and we have faced lots of challenges on this road. We had very high costs with car maintenance due to the road, and also the time we took to travel was too much. After the rehabilitation of the road, communication between our business and the city has become much easier. We have noticed a significant increase in customers, especially in our restaurants. Previously, people living in ​São Tomé were hesitant to visit due to the poor condition of the road. However, with the completion of the first part of the road, we have seen a rise in the number of people visiting,” said Tiziano.

Honorato Clemente, aged 65, lives in the Conde neighborhood along the EN-1. After the road rehabilitation, he was motivated to open a wholesale beer store.

"I've lived in this neighborhood since I was a child. When I first arrived, there were not even ten houses. For many years, it seemed like a forgotten place. However, with the rehabilitation of the road, Conde has now become a town. Our houses have increased in value, and many people now want to live here," Honorato said. “I decided to open this beer warehouse here due to the increased traffic on the road. Most of my clients come from other neighborhoods.”

Impact on Residential Areas

Wilfredo Moniz, a lawyer and resident of the Changra neighborhood in the district of Lobata, uses the EN-1 road to go to work. The new road brings innumerable benefits to him and the community around him, including improved mobility and economic upgrades in their neighborhoods.

Every inch of land is crucial for a small island like São Tomé and Príncipe. The poor road conditions have forced many people to move to the capital in search of a place to live. However, with the rehabilitation of the EN-1, people are now looking for homes in the neighborhoods nearby. As a result, we are seeing a lot of buildings being constructed around the road. It is important that the rehabilitation work continues to reach Neves or even Santa Catarina. This corridor is the economic backbone of ​São Tomé and Príncipe, and its complete rehabilitation will help the country and many people out of poverty,” he said.

Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank
A view of the EN-1 passing through Vila do Conde. Photo: Wilson Piassa/World Bank


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