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Infrastructure planning key to rebuilding urban roads

Galvanizing urban resilience in Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Garowe, and other towns will pave the way for a system that is able to withstand chronic stress and climate shocks.

By Abdirashid M. Dahir

“Somali authorities in Mogadishu, Hargeisa, and Garowe are in the lead to foster a more resilient urban infrastructure capable of coping with the recurrent climate shocks, improve access to social services, and create decent employment opportunities that would ultimately underpin the much-needed contribution towards stability.”

More than two decades of bloody internal strive left Somalia’s urban infrastructure in shambles and crippled the provision of services by municipalities. Drainage, water networks and road assets have been in utter despair and degraded on account of prolonged lack of funds for maintenance.

However, every tragedy comes with a silver lining. Mogadishu was destroyed beyond recognition but this presents a blank slate for us to redraw its physical landscape, make it grander and more glitzy than it was before.

Despite ongoing efforts to rehabilitate urban roads and streets, many cities across Somalia are synonymous with potholes, ruts and damaged drainage structures, which deplorably make the lifespan of roads very short. Local governments often cite inadequate revenue generation, which consequently turn out to be an encumbrance to their discretion to address service delivery gaps.

However, problems largely stem from technical capacity deficiency as can be attested to by German embassy statement — dated September 5 -on the suspension of Galkayo – Garowe road project.

Everyone who pushes the soil cannot be a contractor; advanced skills and capacity are required if municipal authorities are to deliver on sustainable urban roads and streets. Local governments need to pick contractors and consultants whose selection anchors on competence.

Meanwhile, a slew of positive news is unfolding abreast. In September, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) alongside the World Bank got a landmark urban road infrastructure worth a whopping USD 9million off the ground as part of municipal infrastructure delivery under Somalia Urban Resilience Project (SURP). This project is particularly important for Somalia as it also aims to hone the capacity of municipalities in the delivery of similar infrastructure projects in the future.  

Somalia has many economic potentials. Among them are the youthful labor force and diaspora coming back with the much-needed capital for development. Galvanizing urban resilience in Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Garowe and other towns will pave the way for a system that is able to withstand chronic stresses and climate shocks, which take a toll on the urban poor due to the displacement of drought-decimated families as exemplified by the damaging dry spell that gripped the country in the first half of 2017.

Somali authorities at the federal and regional levels have been prioritizing rebuilding the country’s economy through a raft of reconstruction programs, focused primarily on-road sector. Since Somalia government’s institutional and financial resource base remains weak, World Bank’s role in the execution of infrastructure program was indispensable; and per the project document, technical staff would be on the ground over the course of the implementation of new urban infrastructure projects. Not only will this strengthen municipalities but it will also restore donor confidence in the technical capacity of Somali institutions. When completed, these infrastructures would contribute to the country’s short and medium-term reconstruction and economic recovery.

Moreover, it is noteworthy to mention that this is not the first-ever project tailored towards supporting municipalities in rehabilitating and constructing new streets and roads in Somalia. ILO financed service delivery model in an effort to decentralize urban road design and implementation capacity to municipalities, achieving a dual output by improving urban transport infrastructure — particularly roads — and generating employment opportunities in 2016.

Another initiative has also been lighting up Somali cities with solar-powered street lights, with the overarching goal of helping adjacent businesses stay open late; thus injecting impetus into municipal economic activities and improving public safety.

Moving forward, planning and coordination should be the bedrock for any investment in urban roads. We have to shift gears on budget for infrastructure, prepare infrastructure master plan, and consolidate official GIS database for cities.

Abdirashid M. Dahir

Thanks to UN-Habitat support, a string of cities in Somalia, including Mogadishu, Garowe and Hargeisa have mapped public infrastructure to improve the coordination of urban street reconstruction projects.

Future coordination and planning programs must set out the infrastructure need of each and every city by defining where energy, telecom, power, road and airport infrastructures will be developed and at what cost. For instance, Garowe airport contractors did not reach their target of the completion within the timeframe allotted. The project veered off the course not because contractors were failures, but because there was no ample planning and coordination beforehand.

Now, as our cities are reborn, the far daunting task is fixing urban road infrastructure planning itself. If you plan an airport; it requires another mode of transportation like road, and it should be integrated into others to offer meaning services.

With Mogadishu inexorably undergoing a period of “great rebuilding”, the prognosis for the incoming year is astoundingly a lot more positive.

The writer is a researcher at the Department of Transportation Engineering, University of Seoul and can be reached a @abdirashidmd

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