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Rural Access Programme (RAP) 3

, Nepal




6 years




Project achievements

Solved the problem

Helped subsistence farmers shift to commercial agriculture.

Economy boosted

Created jobs for poor and disadvantaged groups.

Used engineering skill

Roads include climate change adaptation and disaster resilience features

Connect remote communities through a new transport infrastructure

Poor road infrastructure traps some 80% of Nepal’s population in subsistence agriculture and makes transport treacherous, which shoots up prices of basic commodities. The award-winning, UK Aid-funded Rural Access Programme, now in its third phase (RAP3), uses the construction of transport infrastructure as an entry point for improving the lives of the poorest people in Nepal’s remote areas.

RAP3 has built 100 kilometres and maintains over 2,000 kilometres of climate-resilient roads that connect remote communities to markets, healthcare and education facilities. It employs 9,000 poor people, 40% of whom are women, in road construction and maintenance.

The programme also builds partnerships between banks, multinationals, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and farmers to ensure that the poor benefit from improved access.

RAP3 has helped over 3,000 subsistence farmers to enter long-term agreements with businesses and shift to commercial agriculture. The partnership with Unilever has resulted in the appointment of 228 female rural sales agents, which provide remote communities with essential products. MSMEs partners are introduced and connected with national retailers and international importers. RAP3 has attracted £518,000 in private sector investment at the rate of £2.50 for each pound of UK aid invested.

Did you know …

  1. RAP3 has generated 4.7 million employment days for local people.

  2. RAP3 employs 9,000 workers from poor households in road construction and maintenance, who have earned £10.6 million in wages (1,488 million Nepalese rupees).

  3. These wages make up 75% of RAP3 construction costs and 90% of routine maintenance costs.

Project achievements and benefits

RAP3 has alleviated poverty for 9,000 households. The roads it builds decrease travel time and transport cost of goods; and improve access to markets and services. RAP generates jobs for poor and disadvantaged groups, such as Dalits, traditionally regarded as untouchable, and the women. Over 75% of RAP’s construction costs are represented by wages, based on an ‘equal wage for equal work’ principle.

This income allows people to better manage food security during periods of famine, have access to healthcare, send their children to school and to raise their standard of living. RAP has established group saving and credit schemes to ensure productive use of wage income, which can support people even after roadworks end.

These have fostered the development of a savings culture and provide the seed money for fixed interest inter-group lending, which offers an alternative to the exorbitant rates charged by local loan sharks.

RAP’s approach includes alignment of roads through the barren land between woodlands and flat plains to the extent possible, gradual widening of road construction using hand tools, conservation of environmentally-sensitive areas, bioengineering measures and water management structures. Moreover, any trees felled during road construction are replaced at a ratio of 1:25.

Project elements

Sustainability is embedded in RAP as shown by the programme’s holistic approach to improving the long-term livelihoods of the communities involved in this project.

Design standards for roads include climate change adaptation and disaster resilience features. RAP’s roads are built using environmentally sound methods which, together with maintenance, allow roads to be dependable in all weather conditions. These include the use of bioengineering to stabilise slopes rather than engineered structures.

RAP has introduced a culture of road maintenance in Nepal where ‘build and forget’ had become normal practice in all national district road programmes. By 2012, over half of the local road network constructed over the past 15 years was no longer useable because of lack of maintenance. The government of Nepal decided to launch and pay for road maintenance groups (RMGs) throughout most of the country, drawn from the poorest households.

RMGs operate throughout the year, so they can prevent much of the damage caused by the monsoons. They generally work half-time, which allows them to pursue other activities, such as farming, livestock rearing and child-rearing. Importantly, the government’s investment in roads now amounts to the equivalent of £1 .5 million per year.

RAP construction and maintenance teams are embedded in technical offices responsible for engineering works in the districts. This enabled the programme to respond quickly to the 2015 earthquake-affected districts in which RAP operates, clearing local roads to allow access to the first responders such as the army and emergency services.

A member of RAP’s staff also raised funds in Scotland to support affected families working on the programme. RAP3 then matched these funds and distributed them directly and equally to all the members of the Road Maintenance Groups in that district.

RAP deliberately uses labour-intensive methods which generate employment for local people, including women, many of whom are earning a wage for the first time. This is improving their status in society. Moreover, the programme is promoting gender parity by appointing women as community leaders in villages and raising the profile of International Women’s Day in Nepal.

To help address the skills gap in the country’s engineering industry, RAP runs a six-month internship scheme that allows young people to gain hands-on experience in engineering and socio-economic development under the mentorship of experienced professionals. After the internship, participants are often then absorbed into the RAP graduate programme. Nearly 120 interns and currently 30 graduate engineers have participated so far.

RAP’s rejection of bribery and corruption is shown by its Code of Conduct and Behaviour. RAP launched the weekly radio show Bikash Ko Bato (Road to Development), which is aired on local FM radio stations to give a voice to citizens. They are invited to call a toll-free number and leave a voice message with their thoughts on RAP and international development issues that affect them. Moreover, Bikash Ko Bato allows them to hold governments and development programme teams accountable.

People who made it happen

  • IMC Worldwide

More about this project