October 28, 2009 / 11:02 AM / in 10 years

Ethiopia earmarks almost $1 billion for roads

Turkana boys walk past a road construction project near Isiolo town, about 320 km (200 miles) north of Kenyan capital Nairobi, July 7, 2008. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia has set aside $987 million to build new roads and upgrade dilapidated ones during the 2009/10 (July-June) financial year, the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA) said.

The landlocked country has spent $3.6 billion over the past 10 years on building 101,359 km (62,940 miles) of asphalt and gravel roads, the ERA said, with just over a third of this provided by the International Development Agency, the European Union and Japan. The Ethiopian government paid the rest.

The poor nation’s roads have suffered decades of neglect and the government has said the network’s expansion is a priority. Crumbling infrastructure is seen as an obstacle to economic development in many African countries.

“We plan to construct and renovate roads at a cost of 12.4 billion birr in this budget year,” the ERA said in a statement late on Tuesday, adding it had spent 1.4 billion birr during the last three months on upgrading and constructing 270 km of roads. Some 156 roads will be worked on over the year, ERA said.

The Ethiopian government has focused on improving links to the country’s northern tourist sites and regions producing export crops like coffee.

Foreign investors have been showing growing interest in exporting Ethiopia’s commodities and exploring its deserts for probable oil and gas deposits.

China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) has signed a deal to build a $408 million hydropower project, and Sinohydro Corporation has agreed to build the $555 million Chemoga Yeda hydropower project, made up of 5 dams on 5 rivers, while Petronas is hunting for oil and gas deposits in different parts of the huge Horn of Africa country.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines is one of the bigger airlines on the continent. Ethiopia also has an 850 km railroad linking it with the Red Sea port in neighbouring Djibouti that it uses for most of its bulk cargo.

The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi inherited only 18,000 km of roads when it overthrew a communist regime in 1991.

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