By implementing market-oriented reforms, Viet Nam achieved robust economic growth over an extended period. As a result, the country advanced from a narrow inward-looking economy to a rapidly growing lower-middle-income economy. In 2011, when the project was designed, it was entering a new phase in which past gains were to be consolidated and new challenges were to be addressed. The top priorities were reducing regional and social disparities and promoting agricultural development. Against this backdrop, the government focused its Socio-Economic Development Strategy, 2011–2020 on addressing the key socioeconomic development and agricultural expansion constraints in 15 of the country’s northern mountainous provinces.
The Transport Connections in Northern Mountainous Provinces Project, approved by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for an $80 million loan in September 2011, took on the challenge of addressing the lack of rural infrastructure identified by the strategy as a major constraint. Focusing on the six provinces of Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Lao Cai, Tuyen Quang, and Yen Bai, where poverty rate was at 30% in 2009, the project sought to rehabilitate nine mountainous roads and three city roads while reducing their climate change vulnerability. It aimed to reduce poverty, as impact; and provide improved and reliable road connectivity with increased climate change resilience, as outcome. Its planned outputs were: (i) roads rehabilitated and climate-proofed; (ii) capacity of provincial people’s committees (PPCs) on potential climate change impacts is enhanced; and (iii) potential social problems among vulnerable people, especially women and ethnic minorities, are prevented and mitigated.
A parallel €2 million grant was provided by the Nordic Development Fund (NDF) to finance climate change adaptation activities, including capacity building of the provincial departments of transport (PDOTs), vulnerability mapping of the project roads, identification and prioritization of adaptation approaches, detailed designs to increase the project roads’ climate change resilience, and policy strengthening and coordination.
Against a targeted 304 kilometers (km), the project rehabilitated 287.5 km of provincial roads. Before the project, only 36% of the project roads were paved; at project completion, this had risen to 95%. The 16.5 km of roads not rehabilitated comprised sections that were to be financed by other projects. Flexible design guidelines were applied only on one road against the target of at least two project roads. Climate change vulnerability mapping and the introduction of comprehensive adaptation measures were also only partially achieved because of the misalignment of the adaptation measures to the detailed engineering designs and delayed recruitment, poor performance, and eventual termination of the consulting firm that precluded the completion of adaptation support because of insufficient time left. Only 18% of the NDF grant was consequently utilized, as a result of which, not even PDOT capacity building was completed.
The targets to prevent or mitigate social problems among vulnerable groups were substantially achieved. HIV awareness raising programs for all construction workers were conducted. A total of 890,678 local people, 54% of them women and 61% ethnic minorities, were reached by awareness campaigns on HIV and human trafficking prevention, and the promotion of road safety.
As out of the nine output targets, only seven or less than 85% were achieved, the project fell short of achieving its intended outcome. Average travel time on the project roads was reduced by 72%; however, as the adjoining road sections were still in poor condition, the positive impact of the 12 rehabilitated roads was diminished. An inspection of the project roads by the project completion review mission revealed that collapsed slopes, due to insufficient slope stabilization, have damaged newly constructed pavement and impeded traffic on several sections.
The PPCs were the project executing agencies and the PDOTs acted as project owners, providing technical guidance to the project management units that oversaw day-to-day implementation.