Skip to content
Civil Engineer blog

Transport’s role in ending global poverty

12 January 2017

Elizabeth Jones, editor of a new free-to-download themed issue of the ICE Transport journal, says improving transport infrastructure is essential to eradicating global poverty

Transport’s role in ending global poverty
Image credit: Shutterstock

The UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2015 form the ambitious internationally agreed plan of action for eradicating poverty and taking the bold and transformative steps that are needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals build on the Millennium Development Goals and aim to complete (by 2030) what these did not achieve. They outline the global framework for the international community. Within this framework, transport has a number of targets and indicators. These focus on regional infrastructure and economic development, rural transport and poverty reduction, urban and low-carbon dioxide transport.

It is an exciting time for the transport sector globally. There have been a number of important international conferences including COP21, Habitat III and the mid-term meeting for the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety. The United Nations High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport launched its final report in November 2016.

Climate-smart design

Our challenge is to be agile in our response to these significant global challenges and to align our efforts around climate-smart design, emerging technologies, rural poverty, resilience and urbanisation. In doing so we must ensure that transport contributes to wider development objectives around job creation and youth, female economic empowerment and that transport leaves no one behind.

More than 1 billion people globally do not have access to transport. Where populations are dense, the problems are different and there can be a reliance on cars that leads to congestion and pollution. The city populations of emerging economies are expected to double between 2000 and 2030, from 2 billion to 4 billion people.

Built-up areas in cities worldwide will triple in size, from 200 000 to 600 000 km2. Transport accounts for about 20% of world carbon dioxide emissions, around 60% of global oil consumption and around 27% of all energy use (IEA, 2013). As prosperity increases vehicle ownership increases. Successfully tackling climate change means getting transport right.

Sustainable, safe transport is about creating new opportunities. It enables businesses to grow, generates jobs and creates new markets. Countries can grow in an inclusive, resilient and low-carbon dioxide way.

Reaching remote areas

Getting to zero poverty by 2030 means more and larger economic infrastructure investments in the poorest countries. It means reaching the remote rural poor and working in the most difficult environments.

In order to deliver tangible improvements, there is a strong need for sector-wide leadership, coordination and accountability across transport at a global level. Without agreed roles and responsibilities, indicators and monitoring frameworks along with sufficient funding, it is unlikely that transport will contribute optimally to the achievement of the Global Goals and targets.

In a new themed open-access issue of the ICE Transport journal on transport and poverty, Lucas et al. (2016) explore definitions of transport poverty and their relation and impact in high- and low-income countries, arguing that the different ways that transport poverty is defined and recorded is directly related to how it is addressed in practice. This is closely aligned to the need for agreed indicators and accountability within the transport sector globally.

Facilitating international trade

Strong transport links can facilitate international trade transitions, which can boost national income and reduce poverty. Urban areas have the potential to be centres of growth in low-income countries but insufficient transport connectivity is a barrier to this. Lack of transport infrastructure makes accessing markets and basic services difficult or impossible in both rural and urban environments and prevents poor people accessing social and economic opportunity (DFID, 2013).

Improving access to rural roads and lowering transport costs can have substantial impacts on poverty, on consumption levels, on farm output and on the development of non-farm activities. Eight years ago Jacoby and Minten (2009) showed that agricultural incomes rise substantially due to lower transport costs and, importantly, non-farm earnings rise by even more. In the same year Dercon et al. (2009) reported reductions in poverty and large increases in consumption levels.

In the new themed issue, Burrow et al. (2016) highlight findings of a systematic review of research supporting technology selection for rural roads in low- and lower-middle-income countries. This is complemented by a view on rural connectivity, which is brought out by Jenkins et al. (2016) through a case study in Liberia on motorcycle track construction and upgrading of footpaths and tracks. The paper by Naimanye and Whiteing (2016) focuses on poverty-centred allocation of transport funding in sub-Saharan Africa and provides a financing view.

Improving road safety

The road safety statistics released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are shocking and set to worsen. Currently the number one killer globally of 15–29-year-olds is road accidents. The poor are disproportionately affected. Emerging economies and middle-income countries have the highest rate of increase of deaths as prosperity increases and car ownership keeps pace.

WHO states that motorcyclists make up 23% of world traffic deaths and one-third of these occur in south-east Asia. Phan et al. (2016) go on to explore how traditional motorcycle crash models could be adapted for the unprecedented rise in motorcycle use in south-east Asia, especially in cities where cars are no longer the predominant vehicle and motorcyclist behaviour is very different.

The role of transport infrastructure in the global challenge of poverty eradication is essential. The new themed issue of Transport is a small step in building the evidence of how transport can contribute to the UN's ambitious Global Goals. The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) has sponsored Open Access for this themed issue, meaning all papers are free to download.

For more information please contact the ICE Proceedings editor Simon Fullalove on [email protected] or +44 (0)20 8744 2028.