Hit the pavement
August 18, 2012 Leave a comment
I called my old Peace Corps host village today, to wish them a happy Feast of Ramadan. (Niger started the fast, and is celebrating the end, a day earlier than Dakar.) It was great fun talking to my old friends and colleagues.
What was craziest to me is that they have a paved road*. It used to take 1.5 – 2 hours to get the 70k (about 45 miles) from Kornaka to Maradi, the regional capital. Not to mention it was dirty, dusty, bumpy and there was a high likelihood of detours into the bush to avoid either sand or mud. Now apparently it takes 30-40 minutes, a clean trip on a well-paved road. That’s about how long it took me to walk to work all last year.
My first thought is, that would have made my travel so much better. Too late now. (Besides, I can claim some good bragging rights.)
Second, though, I think about what that’s likely to have done for Kornaka. Imagine working on that road, going from a cloud of dust every time a car would pass to clean pavement. (Imagine being a driver on the road!) More than simple quality of life though, I can’t help think of the economic impact, my quick list of which is below:
1) Buses: It’s not just bush taxis on the road anymore – my friend said the big cross-country buses have begun new routes up to Dakoro. While it’s not likely they have a station in a town as small as Kornaka, there’s probably at least one or two guys in town working for the companies. And of course, it probably means more travelers with more money which is good news for the men & women selling on the side of the road.
2) Trucks: For our school garden project, bringing the fence up from Maradi was a huge hassle, partly because the truck we needed only went to Kornaka on market day. Now that the trip is shorter and smoother, I would bet that more trucks are able to transport more things more frequently.
3) Dakoro traffic: Being so far up on such a (previously) sh*tty road, Dakoro always felt a bit remote – for business, NGOs, etc. Now that buses are going there, and that it takes under 2 hours instead of over 4, that perception will change. This should increase travel, business and probably NGO presence too, which is better for people working directly in those industries, and also for people working in support of them – including Kornaka’s men & women selling on the road.
4) Health: Not just the ambulances taking people to the hospital in Maradi, but even the donkey carts taking sick people or women in labor to the health centers will be altogether better. Quicker, less dusty, less jarring ride, all of which are good when you’re sick or (I presume) pregnant.
I remember, back on my study abroad trip to Mali in 2006, we were discussing what one thing we would change to improve things. I argued for roads, most likely because at the time we were sitting in a cramped car, fishtailing through the sand and choking on dust from the car in front of us. But since then I’ve held to that idea. Forget free trade – most of Niger can’t even have a free flow of goods & people within its borders. How’s a country supposed to develop? The new Dakoro road is one small step towards that.
*This is the Dakoro road, which goes from Maradi (regional and economic capital) through Kornaka (my old village) to Dakoro (prefecture). This road was formerly infamous for being one of the worst in country. Kornaka’s about halfway up, at an intersection – and at the school on the north-west edge of town you can see the garden