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How is IMC promoting road sector innovation in Malawi?

As part of the European Union-funded Transport Sector Policy Support Programme, IMC is helping Malawi’s authorities make the most of information and communication technologies in road rehabilitation planning.

Monday 28 November 2016, Lorenza Geronimo, John White

Since 2012, IMC has been advising Malawi’s authorities on how to spend effectively funds allocated by the European Union (EU) to the road sector, with the aim of reducing transport costs, boosting economic growth and alleviating poverty.

Until 2017, we will assist the Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure in several areas: from public-private partnership legislation to airport safety regulations and road sector budget and planning. We will also support the National Roads Authority to implement road maintenance and construction projects and the Road Traffic Authority to elaborate road safety policies and enforce them.

Malawi is one of the world’s least-developed countries, ranked 173 of 188 countries according to the Human Development Index 2015, which takes into account indicators such as literacy, child malnutrition, life expectancy, unemployment rates and gross domestic product. According to World Bank data as of 2010, more than half the population is estimated to live on $1.90 a day.

Malawi being landlocked and economically reliant on agriculture, roads play a crucial role. They connect rural communities to markets and essential services such as schools and hospitals. Road rehabilitation, therefore, is key to reducing poverty.

How an app is streamlining road rehabilitation planning

IMC is helping Malawian authorities select which roads to maintain to ensure that donors’ funding is spent effectively.

The International Road Roughness Index (IRI) assesses roads quality and is a decisive factor in rehabilitation planning.

The physical equipment that is traditionally used to measure IRI, called Bump Integrator, is expensive and time-consuming to use. However, nowadays, smartphone apps such as the World Bank’s RoadLab, can measure IRI.

 In Malawi, IMC is promoting the use of Roadroid, a freely downloadable, multi-award-winning app for Android and Apple iOS, invented by Lars Forslöf, CEO of the Swedish tech firm Roadroid AB. The app, which is the product of research conducted since 2002, is currently used in 30 developed and developing countries.

Roadroid app being calibrated against the Bump Integrator currently used in Malawi. Credit: Roadroid AB.
Roadroid app being calibrated against the Bump Integrator currently used in Malawi. Credit: Roadroid AB.

Road engineers simply activate the app on their phone, mount it in their vehicle and then drive along the road that is being surveyed for possible rehabilitation. The app detects the vehicle wheels’ vertical movement, identified as bumps in the road in real-time, helping engineers quickly, cheaply, and easily create road health-related data that can then be uploaded to a Geographic Information System (GIS) for analysis.

Roadroid not only measures the IRI, but also includes functionality for recording photos and videos which are valuable for the later interrogation of the data.

This has tremendous implications, as a relatively small number of engineers and civil servants can now map a countrywide highway network like Malawi’s in a fraction of the time needed in the past. Essentially, all that is needed is a vehicle, a smartphone, Roadroid, and then a GIS to take in the data for analysis.

IMC staff standing with civil servants from Malawi’s Government, whom we have trained on how to use the Roadroid app.
IMC staff standing with civil servants from Malawi’s Government, whom we have trained on how to use the Roadroid app.

Compared to a Bump Integrator, Roadroid is particularly beneficial in countries and municipalities where funding is scarce and technical skills may be limited.

The use of the app as part of existing road rehabilitation procedures has so far been received extremely well in Malawi.

Using the Roadroid app and a single phone we were able to record in both directions the condition of more than 300km of road in a short day. The data was uploaded during the day to the website and was instantaneously accessible by all colleagues worldwide.

– John White, Road Maintenance Engineer of the project and IMC Principal Consultant of Roads & Highways

Striking a balance between competing criteria

Data related to roads’ quality are used to determine which roads to rehabilitate. A purely economic analysis suggests prioritising primary roads with high traffic volumes and low roughness.

However, IMC is developing a multi-criteria analysis. So, for example, a road cannot be automatically discarded just because it has low traffic indicators and is in poor state. The beneficial effects that its maintenance would have in terms of increased mobility and connectivity of rural communities have to be taken into account and a balance has to be struck.

IMC has been Malawi’s development partner since 2001, through the implementation of EU and World Bank-funded programmes in the transport sector.

At IMC we strongly believe in the potential of information and communication technologies to foster international development. As shown by other projects that we are implementing across the globe, their potential is immense and we are committed to using them more and more.

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