Road building

How even the simplest of roads pull people out of isolation

Without roads, rural communities are extremely restricted. Collecting water and firewood, and going to local markets is a huge task, therefore it is understandable that the construction of roads is a major priority for many rural communities.

Practical Action are helping to improve rural access/transport infrastructures through the construction and rehabilitation of short rural roads, small bridges, culverts and other transport related functions. The aim is to use methods that encourage community driven development.

This means villagers can improve their own lives through better access to markets, health care, education and other economic and social opportunities, as well as bringing improved services and supplies to the now-accessible villages.


Labour based technology

Through the participation of local communities and using simple labour-based technology, the local people's skills are harnessed and developed.

The completed stretches of road are designed to cause minimal environmental damage, to be resistant to the weather conditions which can turn paths into muddy trenches, and to be easily maintained through local labour after completion.

In the process, the villagers improve their lives through better access to markets, health care, education and other economic and social opportunities and by bringing improved services and supplies to the now-accessible villages.

Mulberigama, Sri Lanka

Working with Practical Action and its partner, GIDES, women from 80 families in Mulberigama, Sri Lanka, decided to build a better road. They learned new technical skills as well as community organisation. Working in groups of six while their children were at school, the women built 1.2 kilometres of road, largely by hand.

"First you clear away the vegetation, down to the roots," says AP Kusumawati. "Then, using rope every 20 metres to keep it the same width, you work out where you need to cut, and where you must fill. You dig drainage channels and slopes, and bring the gravel and earth in wheelbarrows. "Last, you use a roller to flatten the road, and turf the embankments to prevent soil erosion. This sort of road you can maintain well."

Each woman received a small wage, donating some to a community fund to pay for road maintenance, and to make loans to families for seeds, tools and fertiliser.

Here, and in another pilot village, Practical Action’s roads project has brought 2,000 people higher incomes and productivity, and dramatically improved their access to schools, health care, building materials and other goods.

Mr Dissanayake, who attended one of our training courses on how to build earth roads, said, "Practical Action’s approach is ideal for remote communities. We can make use of it to help more people have better roads. The Kiriwatte-Angulgamuwa road built using these methods has withstood heavy spells of rain and has proved it really works!"

With new roads being built between communities, a life- changing network of possibilities is being created – one that connects previously isolated people to schools, clinics and markets. They’re no longer alone. With their confidence given a much-needed boost, people can take charge of their lives, dare to believe in a more prosperous future, and make themselves heard by the people in power.

Neelawebedde, Sri Lanka. One road. Three vital destinations.

Just one road can take everyone in Neelawebedde where they need to go.

In Sri Lanka, many isolated communities are far from idyllic. Miles away from healthcare, schools and markets, people in poor communities suffer every day because they cannot reach the support and services they need.

Neelawebedde was one such community, until ITDG worked with them to turn a treacherous path into a road to a new future.

To market …

Kusum worked hard to make his crops grow, so that there was enough to feed the family and a little left over to sell. But whenever the old road was impassable he couldn’t reach the nearest market, and the surplus he had worked so hard to produce just rotted away. That’s why Kusum was happy to join his neighbours, working to make the track safe and secure. After getting up early to tend his fields, he set to work clearing the vegetation that covered so much of the pathway, hauling loads of earth to fill any holes, and making the surface smooth.

Today, the reliable road that ITDG helped the community build means that Kusum can always get to market with his extra cassawa crop and sugar cane – and the road is wide enough to take a trailer, carrying many times more than before.

To school …

Ranjith used to carry his shoes to school. With a stream cutting across the path, and knee-deep mud to wade through, he knew he would get filthy – but he was determined to get there. An education could mean an escape from poverty at last …

Ranjith’s mother, Siriya, was one of the first in Neelawebedde to be trained by ITDG in the new road-building techniques, learning how to curve the path and use a “culvert and causeway” system to take it safely over the stream.

As the work progressed, she would see Ranjith coming back from school on the stretch they had already completed. “It would thrill my heart to see him running home, so carefree and happy. With our own hands, we have paved the way for this change.” Now Ranjith can be sure of getting to school every day – and to the education he years for.

To hospital …

After losing one daughter, Heenmenike was determined that her remaining children be protected from such danger, and face a better future.

With ITDG’s help, she made her own contribution to the road building work, happy to dig and shift heavy barrow-loads of earth much as she did every day on her small plot of land. Hugely proud of what she has helped to achieve, she now wants her children to reap the benefits of all the hard work. She is helping them learn how to maintain the road, so that it will still be there when their children need it too.

She says, “It is the poor who have benefited most from this road. We lost so much before, but now it has brought us all hope, especially for the children of tomorrow.”

Governments in developing countries recognise that a greater choice of transport is good for the population, but priority is usually given to building main roads that only serve the better-off. People in the poorest rural communities rarely benefit.With our technical and practical support, isolated rural communities can design, build and maintain village roads and bridges using local materials, tools and labour.

However, we cannot continue with this work without your help and support. Please get involved by making a donation, buying a Practical Present or even taking part in a challenge event. Alternatively, please share this page with your friends via Facebook and Twitter. Thank you.

You can download  technical briefs and manuals on road building at Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action, or you can submit an enquiry to the Practical Action staff via the online form

Dry Stone Causeways

Causeways are a strong, low-cost means of river crossing.

Improving paths and tracks - Part 1

Part 1 of 3: Paths and tracks link small communities to road networks.

Improving paths and tracks - Part 2

Part 2 of 3: This part deals with wet and marshy areas.

Improving paths and tracks - Part 3

Part 3 of 3: This part focuses on steep and mountainous areas.

Books by Practical Action Publishing

Labour-based Road Construction

Earth Roads

Road Maintenance and Regravelling (ROMAR) Using Labour-Based Methods Workbook

Road Maintenance and Regravelling (ROMAR) Using Labour-Based Methods Handbook

Roads and Resources

Roads are not Enough

Rural Roads and Poverty Alleviation

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