Kiribati is one of the most remote countries in the world. It consists of 33 small coral islands, dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean. It has only one main road connecting the eastern and western islands. This main road runs the length of the extremely narrow and densely populated South Tarawa atoll. Passing through the administrative capital of Bairiki, it connects two of the main gateways to the country, the Bonriki international airport in the east and the Betio seaport in the west.
For many years until 2016, the South Tarawa road was in extremely poor condition. Lack of routine maintenance had turned formerly paved sections into a pitted gravel surface. Prolonged wet weather and ever-heavier traffic volumes had accelerated the deterioration of the road which, except for a few repairs in 2008, had not been rehabilitated since the 1970s.
The very poor condition of the road profoundly affected the lives of South Tarawa’s more than 50,000 people. Average travel speed was reduced to 20 kilometers per hour. Travel was difficult and dangerous, especially after the rains, as vehicles were forced to navigate large and deep depressions filled with water. In the dry season, excessive dust would collect along the road, significantly contributing to the incidence of upper respiratory illnesses.
To address the situation directly affecting 42% of the country’s population in 2010, the Government of Kiribati requested the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help finance the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. In response, ADB provided a loan of $12 million and two grants worth $11.4 million, all from the ADB-administered Asian Development Fund.
Despite serious challenges, the project succeeded in achieving its intended outputs, in many ways, exceeding targets. It rehabilitated 38.4 kilometers of paved roads and 9.2 kilometers of feeder roads and dramatically improved the safety and serviceability of these roads by putting in place sturdier seawalls, concrete u-drains, and several features new to Kiribati, including well- demarcated footpaths, clearly marked speed humps, street lights, and pull-off bays. It also enhanced the sustainability of these roads and helped address the country’s need for an enabling framework to better manage its road assets by supporting the training of local subcontractors in routine maintenance and the preparation of a detailed routine maintenance manual, a road safety action plan, and a road safety legislation.
Successful completion of the project has provided South Tarawa’s people a safer, more efficient road network, improving their access to vital infrastructure and essential goods and services. Early beneficial impacts have also included increased economic activity along the roadside, with many new small stores and eateries now established.
The project was cofinanced by the Government of Australia, the Government of Kiribati, and the World Bank. From an estimated $33.36 million during appraisal, the actual total project cost reached $74.97 million. Project completion was pushed back thrice, from 30 April 2013 to 28 November 2016. Kiribati’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy was the implementing agency and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development the executing agency.