Roads: devil is in the detail

FEW dispute Papua New Guinea’s need for new roads, but experts say the devil is in the detail. A report on website environmental news website poses the question: New roads for PNG: Path to progress or to environmental devastation?
Roads: devil is in the detail Roads: devil is in the detail Roads: devil is in the detail Roads: devil is in the detail Roads: devil is in the detail

Camilo Mejia Giraldo

Written by Camilo Mejia Giraldo, this is a sharply edited version of that report.
• The PNG government plans to build more than 3000km of new roads in the next five years, with a focus on connecting remote rural areas.
• New roads can help improve services in rural areas and enable farmers bring their crops to market. 
• But some critics say the government's road-building plans are more focused on allowing extractive industries into remote areas.
• Illegal logging is already a serious problem in PNG, and experts fear that poorly planned roads could increase deforestation in ecologically significant tracts of rainforest.
• China's growing role in financing infrastructure projects in PNG has also raised concerns.
PNG's central highland province of Simbu, residents of the mountainous Gembogl district eagerly await the completion of a long-overdue road upgrade that will seamlessly connect them with the region's capital and the Highlands Highway, a vital link to much of the country's predominantly rural population.
Barely passable during heavy rains because of its muddy surface and frequent landslides, the current Kundiawa-to-Gembogl road is a one-lane dirt track that winds a precarious path along limestone cliffs and the area's main river, the Simbu. Depending on the weather, the trip along the 29km stretch of road can take anywhere from one to three hours. At times it is only accessible by heavy-duty, four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Now, with funding from the Asian Development Bank, a Chinese company has been contracted to transform the road into a two-lane sealed thoroughfare that will eventually connect this section of the densely populated highlands with the coastal province of Madang.
"The road is a link to the rest of PNG," says Steven Yimgin, a local community leader.
Seen as a path to development and improving their livelihoods, the project highlights the hunger rural communities across PNG have for reliable roads, as well as the central government's current push to open up and integrate remote areas through an ambitious road expansion initiative.
But while the government emphasises the economic benefits of roads, some local organisations and experts have raised deep concerns about this push to pave the hinterlands. Rather than a path to development for communities around the country, they see the government's road-building initiative as a mechanism to open up previously untouched areas for extractive industries.
To continue reading the 2000-word report, follow this link