Works resume on strategic road in DR Congo

BUKAVU – The restoration of a strategic road in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) has resumed following negotiations with rebel groups who had disrupted the works for more than five months.

During the first half of 2014, the Congolese Army won several military battles with support from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO), which increased pressure on rebel groups and led to an agreement over the resumption of works.

Following years of war, sections of the 304-kilometre dirt road that links the capital of South Kivu province, Bukavu, to the landlocked Shabunda territory, were reduced to footpaths and some of its bridges were completely destroyed.

After more than 15 years of isolation, the road was reopened by UNOPS in 2010, with funding from the United Kingdom, as part of the International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy.

Since 2010, the United Kingdom and UNOPS have continued to improve the road in an effort to restore state authority, create access for humanitarian aid and basic services such as health, and boost the local economy. The project benefits the community by reducing travel time between Nzibira locality and Bukavu from two days to two hours, and has to date created 500,000 labour-days for local people.

However, progress made following the road's reopening came under threat when rebel groups prevented construction works from continuing in July 2013. While UNOPS was able to continue working on some sections, access was limited.

Security concerns and the remoteness of the site present ongoing challenges, for example, local contractors initially had to travel by foot to the most remote sections of road. UNOPS has adapted its work to the local security situation, while MONUSCO has provided security escorts and civil engineering assistance.

"The isolation of populations in the east exposes people to major security and human rights risks, and the reconnecting of these populations to security services, basic services and economic opportunities is among our highest priorities," said a United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) DR Congo Senior Infrastructure Advisor.

UNOPS has supported the construction of 74 bridges and handed over the first 45 kilometres of road to the Government of DR Congo, who is now maintaining it. Environmental and social impact studies were conducted to ensure the road minimizes environmental risks and maximizes benefits to the local population. 

"UNOPS has developed valuable relationships with government, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners in North and South Kivu, and as a United Nations body, has legitimacy and access that other agencies can struggle to offer," said the DFID representative.

Under the International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy, UNOPS has rehabilitated four other key roads and built 44 state buildings with funding from the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund  and the governments of Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States.

Despite being two-thirds the size of Western Europe, DR Congo has only 2,800 kilometres of paved roads, with the vast majority of its road network in need of rehabilitation.