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Ferries Bridge Gaps in Madagascar’s Transportation Network

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  • Madagascar is improving its transportation network along its eastern coast
  • A reliable network proves difficult to build and maintain but provides economic benefits 
  • The World Bank’s IDA supported installation of ferries that encourage economic activity, cut travel time and increase safety

ANTANANARIVO, October 5, 2010—On Madagascar’s rugged and hilly East Coast, the installation of 27 ferries has helped complete a transportation network that better connects goods and people, reduces travel time and creates economic opportunities for villages along the way.

In 2008, Madagascar’s government installed the ferries along the 1,400 kilometer corridor from Fort-Dauphin in the Southeast to Maroantsetra in the Northeast, a stretch that plays an important transportation role in the island country’s economy. The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) helped finance the ferries as part of a larger US$165 million transport infrastructure investment program (APL3). The program seeks to reduce transport costs by rehabilitating key transport infrastructure including railroads and ports.

Ferries provide an all-weather alternative

Building and maintaining a reliable road that runs from the South to the North of the eastern coast posed significant challenges, according to Pierre Graftieaux, a senior transport specialist at the World Bank’s office in Antananarivo. The stretch crosses several rivers, frequent rains and cyclones move through the area, and the country lacks the money required to ensure proper maintenance.

The ferries, aimed at providing a back-up infrastructure to the high-maintenance road corridor, and installed to help cross rivers year round, are one part of the government’s plan for an all-weather route. 

“Together with roads and bridges, the ferries are also part and parcel of the transport corridor infrastructure,” said Graftieaux. “When river mouths are too wide and traffic relatively limited, it becomes more economically sensible to opt for ferries rather than for expensive bridges,” he said.

The World Bank’s Rural Transport Project (APL2) also funds building jetties that will keep the ferries safe, especially in bad weather conditions, and help avoid deterioration.

Bank funds also rehabilitated a national road and railway that links the capital of Antananarivo in the center of the island to the country’s main port of Tamatave on the coast. In partnership with a mining company, IDA’s Integrated Growth Poles project also renovated Fort-Dauphin’s Ehoala port, which is expected to become the main exit point for exports and one of the key development factors of the region.

Rural communities gain better access to schools, markets and health facilities

The Road Authority of Madagascar (ARM) installed the 27 new ferries in 2008 and revamped the management system. One person is now in charge of closely supervising the ferry operations and can coordinate rapidly with ARM headquarters when assistance is needed.

Before the ferries, delays were common, sometimes up to two weeks, for goods in transport and people traveling. The people along National Road 12a (RN12a), the southernmost section of the East Coast corridor, welcome the change.

“We are really happy with this new ferry. It improves our lives,” said André Kama, a respected elder living in the village of Iabokoho, located 61 kilometers from Fort-Dauphin. “It can carry three cars together or a big truck. The crossing of the river is quicker than before and hence the waiting time shorter. And we feel secure, not like with the old ones.”

The ferries are designed to be waterproof, have a higher resistance to corrosion and support more weight, according to Guy Serge Ralambotiana, head of operations for the bridges and ferries. They can cross up to three medium-sized cars at one, thereby reducing the number of crossings. Twenty-three out of 27 ferries installed by ARM are motorized but even the few that are manually handled are designed to minimize the amount of human effort required.

Security has also improved. Sometimes accidents occurred on the old ferries which were built using barrels, tires or even bamboo. The ferries along RN12a create a safer route compared to RN13, the alternate route to Antananarivo, where “dahalo” or bandits attack cars and villages at night.

Johnny Belalahy has been driving a truck between Fort-Dauphin and Antananarivo for years and prefers the RN12a because the ferries decrease travel time. “If we use two men who take turns at the wheel, two days are enough to reach the capital, versus three days on the alternative road.”

There are benefits for villages surrounding as well. Each time cars wait for the ferry to cross the river, people living in the villages show up to sell fruits or grilled fish to the passengers. And because of the increase in traffic, there are also more clients. This small trade generates revenues. People also now have better access to markets, schools and health facilities, another example of how the whole region benefits from the transportation network, not just exporters and “camion-brousse” drivers, truck drivers who transport people in rural Madagascar.

“Integrating transport means through a long-term vision of regional development has permitted us to look at different World Bank interventions in new ways,” said Adolfo Brizzi, Country Manager for the World Bank in Madagascar. “Bringing together different type of infrastructure projects dealing with port, roads, railways and ferry in a single concept of transport corridor development has offered new cost effective ways to look at synergies in the transport sector.”




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