Roads are a key asset for Africa. They connect villages to economic centres, people to hospitals, children to schools and goods to markets facilitating trade. A changing climate has many implications for Africa’s road connectivity. Climate change leads to an increase in frequency and intensity of fluvial and surface water flooding of roads; higher temperatures causing heat-induced damage to road surfaces; increased storm surge flooding of the road network causing damages to roads, bridges and culverts. Climate change impacts in the road sector lead to loss of human lives, increasing economic costs for the country, and often results in rural populations being cut off from markets and services, with the associated harmful effects on rural income and welfare.
Mozambique was only able to cover less than one third of the costs of post disaster reconstruction in the road sector in 2013 and 2014. The 2019 Hurricane Idai caused USD 1 billion alone in infrastructure damages across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Malawi. A few weeks later, tropical Cyclone Kenneth was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Mozambique since modern records began. For Mozambique, there could be further challenges ahead with increasing reconstruction costs and insufficient institutional capacity on how to tackle climate risk in the road sector.
Many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America find themselves in a similar situation as Mozambique. Climate change makes these countries more vulnerable with increasing temperatures, rapid changing rainfall patterns, and sea level rise.
What can be done
There are two adaptation options are before us. The first is to carry on as normal and hope that existing institutional capacity in road agencies, technical specifications and design codes will be sufficient to meet future climate and weather challenges, albeit with the need for an increased maintenance budget. The second option would be to begin introducing climate change adaptation into road transport infrastructure planning, decision-making and the asset management process. There is now enough information and data to show that the first option, “doing nothing”, will be an increasingly expensive option. Costs associated with a short-term disaster response, as well as the national economic development impacts of road network closures and interruptions, are increasing. Costs from natural disasters increased about 27% in the year 2019-20, according to Munich Re.1 Therefore, embarking on a climate change adaptation approach in the transport sector is imperative.
Nordic Development Fund (NDF) has in the past decade supported climate change adaptation and resilience building in the transport sector in eight countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The projects are mainly grant financed and combined with a larger MDB loan to the road sector. Typically, NDF supports long-term technical assistance to national road agencies to build capacity and develop tools that will allow the organisation to provide services effectively and sustainably as the climate changes.
NDF has provided almost EUR 50 million for such projects in Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Senegal, Vietnam, and Zambia. These projects share similarities in design while considering the local context in each country. All projects include a cross-cutting training and capacity component that is based on mapping and training needs assessments of key stakeholders and national and local levels. Training and awareness building are key components to secure that climate change is a process, which should be built into a road authority’s normal planning and risk management procedures.2 Moreover, the projects will work on having climate change embedded in national transport policies and plans.
Another fundamental activity is a vulnerability mapping of the existing road network combined with climate and other data. The vulnerability mapping helps identify hotspots where different types of adaptation interventions may be designed and implemented. The vulnerability mapping will also be a tool for prioritising road sections for further maintenance to secure all-year road connectivity.
Many countries need revision and update of design standards for road transport infrastructure. In Zambia, the road sector guidelines documents were from 1994 and had no consideration of potential climate change impacts. Through an ongoing 4-year technical assistance to the national road agency, all the thirteen road sector road design and maintenance guidelines, codes and specifications have been revised. All design norms and specifications now have an addendum with all the relevant climate resilience material, adaptation methodologies and then details on adaptation options. In Mozambique, the twelve main road transport design standards and specifications have been completely revised and updated by the British Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) with funding from World Bank and NDF.
Regular maintenance procedures will help prevent widespread damages due to severe weather events. NDF supports development and revision of road asset management systems (RAMS) with inclusion of climate data to secure effective and targeted maintenance to reduce threats to the road infrastructure and its functionality.
Climate screening tools are developed to assess during planning stage the potential climate impacts on existing and new road transport infrastructure. Such tools will be used in planning and decision-making for road adaptation measures. The tools consider both the potential risks and use economic assessments to make informed decisions that address short- and long-term sustainability issues.
Climate change adaptation and resilience building must be an everyday, practical, hands-on process. How effectively those measures are applied will be most clearly measured through the success of road network investment outcomes and impacts for the local inhabitants – who will enjoy the benefits of successes – but ultimately also bear the costs of any failures.
 PIARC (World Road Association) 2015. International climate change adaptation framework for road infrastructure.