Bhutan starts road feasibility study

By Richard High21 October 2008

The Japan Special Fund, through the Asian Development Bank (ADB), is providing a US$ 650000 grant for a feasibility study for a road project in Bhutan.

The Bhutanese government will provide an additional US$ 1650000 to complete the funding required for the study.

The feasibility study will focus on a national highway in the southern corridor, as well as feeder roads in the middle of the corridor. The study will be the basis of a road project design for a possible future loan from the ADB.

Commenting on the grant, Arto Ahonen, ADB's South Asia Department transport specialist, said, "Most of the poor, especially in rural areas, feel that the Government should prioritize road infrastructure and bridges to improve their living conditions."

A large segment of the rural population of Bhutan has limited access to markets and modern services because of harsh geography and the poor domestic transport system. There are no domestic flights, railways, and rivers are not suitable for water transport.

Bhutan depends on a single East-West national highway running through the middle of the country. The absence of a similar highway in the south has constrained travel in that region, according to an ADB study.

Along Bhutan's southern corridor, the western part has emerged as an economic growth centre. Improving the transport system in this area will increase the potential economic benefits, said the ADB.

Connecting the less-developed eastern part of the southern corridor to the country's road network will also promote economic growth and reduce poverty, while improving the road connection to India and Bangladesh will enhance sub-regional economic cooperation.

Land-locked, roads play an increasingly vital part in Bhutan's trade and commerce. India is Bhutan's biggest trading partner, accounting for about 90% of the country's imports and 70% of its exports.

At present, only the north-south road corridor located in western Bhutan connects the two countries.

Bhutan's exports to Bangladesh also travel through India.

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