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Road fatalities could double in Burma: ADB

Mahabandoola road near Sule pagoda in Rangoon. (Reuters)

“Burma’s road safety is in a dire state, with 4,300 road deaths in 2014. If recent trends continue unchecked, fatalities could double in the next five years,” according to Adrien Véron-Okamoto, a transport specialist in the Asia Development Bank’s (ADB) Southeast Asia Department.

Poor road quality around the country has also been directly linked to reduced economic development and welfare, in addition to the human costs.

“The poor condition of Burma’s road network makes transport costly and slow, and this hinders economic growth,” explained Véron-Okamoto.

The ADB has now approved a US$2 million grant to help improve road management and safety in Burma, money which will help fund national highway rehabilitation and national road safety programmes under the direction of the Ministry of Construction and Rail Transportation.

A key gateway to India and China, the state of Burma’s roads has long been a sour subject among commuters and investors.

The Rangoon-Naypyidaw-Mandalay stretch in particular has earned the nickname “Death Highway”.

Despite being the country’s most important road connection, it was poorly funded and hastily built. Insufficient lighting on the highway and a transportation culture of tailgating and speeding has only added to the accident statistics.

Some 500 kilometres of highways are expected to be upgraded with the ADB’s assistance. Road databases and pavement management systems are also slated for improvement.

Work is expected to start in 2017. The ADB grant is being funded by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction.

Perhaps the most ambitious road project already underway is the Asian Highway network, which, though partly financed by the ADB, is mostly backed by the governments of Japan, India and China.

The network will ultimately link eastern China, Korea and Japan by road to Europe.

Burma is to play a major role in the Asian Highway system, being the conduit between Thailand and Southeast Asia to India.

In the east of the country, the Asian Highway is slated to connect Moulmein and Rangoon with Thailand via the Myawaddy-Mae sot border crossing. However, ongoing conflict between Burmese government forces and various Karen militias in the area has exasperated plans.