In deprived countries, a new transport link can often provide a vital economic lifeline. For Samtske-Javakheti in southern Georgia a major improvement of a key regional road has not only boosted local business, but has also reunited this isolated region with the rest of the country.
Known for agricultural products such as potatoes and dairy products, the region’s deteriorating roads had made it almost impossible for farmers and other agri-businesses to take their products to market. Although the region is geographically close to the national capital Tbilisi, the journey took eight hours before the new road was built.
Our team appointed by the Millennium Challenge Georgia Fund, supported through funding from the US Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, provided project management and technical advice for a four year project that helped reduce the journey time to three hours. This has made a substantial impact on the local economy.
Gordon Lamond , Project Director, WYG, describes the region as he originally found it: "Samtskhe-Javakheti is a very scenic region. It has the reknowned Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and great potential for tourism but the quality of the roads was a huge problem".
"It was in an appalling condition and you simply couldn’t move goods or people around sensibly. As a result, the region had become one of the poorest in the whole country".
"When I first drove down towards the Armenian and Turkish borders I found the level of poverty in the rural areas quite striking. People had set out tables by the side of the road to sell their belongings. They appeared to have very little."
Working in a challenging environment
The Millennium Challenge Georgia Fund set up the $203 million Road Rehabilitation Project as a way of alleviating this poverty by building or improving 220km of highway through the region. In an area troubled by political uncertainties and, at one point, the outbreak of hostilities with Russia, deadlines were often under pressure and we worked beyond the original commission to make sure it was completed on time.
Gordon Lamond adds: "As the road approached completion, the expected increase in traffic volume and speed raised concerns about safety – particularly in rural areas which had previously only experienced a few vehicles a day at very low speeds.
"We carried out a safety audit of the whole 220km route and proposed a number of safety measures that now protect road users and local people."
Diverse economic benefits
The road provides faster, safer access to markets in larger towns for farmers and small businesses and has opened up access to social services, schools and health centres for the young and vulnerable. It also injected cash directly into the local economy, as Gordon explains: "Using as much local labour as possible during construction had a genuine impact on alleviating poverty, and the road has provided a route into the region for inward investment as well as an outward route for exports. By improving border crossing points, the road is expanding international trade potential with Turkey and Armenia and offers an improved road link to the Black Sea for greater access to Western European markets".
As Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili said in a speech when the road was opened: "This road will unite Georgia and all of Georgia’s regions and will lead to the final liberation of the country."