WASHIGTON, 22 February 2008 – The sorry state of Africa’s transport and communication systems remains a major hindrance to the continent’s efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals. In some African countries, transport costs account for as high as 77% of the value of exports, making it virtually impossible for those countries to compete on the global market.

The revealing observations were made yesterday by the United Nations Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra.

In a keynote speech on “Transport for Africa” at the World Bank’s Annual Sustainable Development Network Week at the bank’s headquarters in Washington, Mr. Diarra noted that road transport, accounting for 90% of interurban transport in Africa, is in such a poor state that it is seriously undermining efforts to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty. Less than a third of Africa’s two million kilometers of roads are paved.

“There is an urgent need for supporting African countries to develop affordable transport systems that would promote trade expansion, economic growth and competitiveness,” Mr. Diarra said.
The challenge is particularly acute in the landlocked African countries. Of the 31 landlocked developing countries, 15 are in Africa. Mr. Diarra observed that geographical realities, coupled with critical infrastructure deficiencies, as well as cumbersome border crossing procedures, pose more significant impediments to trade for landlocked developing countries than tariffs do.

“Because of such realities, landlocked developing countries find themselves among the poorest developing countries today, beset with anemic growth rates and deteriorating social conditions,” he said, observing that of the 15 countries with the lowest level of human development in 2006, nine were landlocked.

“The widening development gap between landlocked developing countries, especially those in Africa and the rest of the developing world, is a clear and unmistakable trend,” he added.
Because of the low rates of return on infrastructure development, international financial assistance remains the major source of funding for infrastructure development.

“Donor-supported public funding is an essential prerequisite for boosting or upgrading supply capacity and infrastructure building in African economic and social development and has important spill-over effects,” Mr. Diarra said.

He welcomed international initiatives aimed at improving transport and communication in Africa, such as the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, jointly supported by African countries, the European Commission, the G8 and multilateral financial and development institutions.

He emphasized the need for the full and effective implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) whose major priorities includes infrastructure development.
He said that cooperation across borders with transit countries was crucial to decreasing transport costs and establishing efficient transit transport systems.

The UN’s midterm review of the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries due this year, he said, will serve to enhance support to landlocked developing countries to effectively participate in the international trading system.
Adopted in 2003, the Almaty Programme provides a global framework for partnership to advance the participation of landlocked developing countries in the international trading system.

While in Washington, Mr. Diarra had meetings with the World Bank’s Ms. Katherine Sierra (Vice President, Sustainable Development Network) and Mr. Daemon Harris (Vice President, Africa and the Middle East) as well as the Adviser to the US Chamber of Commerce and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia at the US Department of Commerce, Mr. Erick Stewart, on matters relating to private sector investment and socio-economic development in African and other developing countries.