The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a US$1.8mn grant from its Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR), financed by the government of Japan, to help improve rural roads in Tajikistan and provide jobs to the rural poor.

The grant will pilot a new community-based road maintenance system that mobilizes rural communities to participate in all stages of maintenance and minor repair of local roads. It will directly target the rural poor by using labor-intensive methods to generate jobs in the poorest areas.

The system will establish local village maintenance funds to be managed by community-based organisations and train subnetwork managers on the rural road planning and maintenance.

Government staff, community organizations, and at least 25 local contractors will be trained and equipped for rural road maintenance planning and work, and maintenance plans for about 600km of local roads will be prepared.

The project should result in around 350km of rural roads being improved and at least 70,000 person-days of employment.

“The project emphasises innovative, least-cost solutions for providing locally affordable links to as much of the rural population as possible,” says Xiaohong Yang, an ADB financial specialist.

“Experience in Asia and Africa over the past 40 years also shows that a principal means for the poor to gain direct benefits from rural road programs is through paid employment for carrying out the work.”

Tajikistan is the poorest country among the Central Asian republics and one of the poorest in the world. As a landlocked country, Tajikistan is highly dependent on its road system. However, the condition of its roads has deteriorated since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 due to inadequate funding, lack of road network planning system and administration.

The grant project will be carried out in the hinterland areas of the area covered by the Dushanbe-Kyrgyz Border Road Rehabilitation Project, which is backed by a US$15mn ADB loan approved in November 2003. Poverty incidence in those mountainous rural areas is estimated at 67%, higher than the national average.

The government and the beneficiaries will contribute US$500,000 equivalent toward the JFPR project’s total cost of US$2.3mn. The ministry of transport is the executing agency for the project, which will be carried out over three years.

The JFPR was set up in 2000 with an initial contribution of Y10bn (about US$90mn). The fund now stands at more than US$344mn.