World Bank Group

11/18/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/18/2022 09:28

Improving Road Safety and Keeping Lesotho’s Rural Communities Connected

HA-RAILEE, November 8, 2022-It still pains village Chief Maria to think about all of the things the villagers of Ha-Railee have lost trying to cross the Tsuinyane River.

There is Maheng Seje, a farmer whose vegetables were swept away by the rush of the river's waters before he could make it to the other side to sell them. There are the miners such as Mokete Ntai, who would travel home to see his family after months of working in the South African mines, only to be met by a swollen river too high and too rough to cross. In 2019, a pregnant 'MaMookho nearly lost her life and the life of her son-now a bubbling, happy toddler-to a flash flood while passing through the river on her way into the town of London for groceries.

"The issues with the river have weighed me down," said the chief, who inherited the role after her husband's death in 1993. Since then, she has heard countless stories from villagers whose children couldn't go to school during the seven-month rainy season, or who were unable to travel to London to buy food, go the local shops or visit the clinic when they were sick.

Just as heartbreaking, she said, were the times they were unable to reach the mortuary for the services needed to bury deceased loved ones. "It was very painful for the village," she said.

Many of the 2,000 people who live in the 10 villages surrounding the Tsuinyane have stories of lost wares and lost lives before the 2021 construction of a 21-meter-long footbridge. Now villagers have a safe way to cross the river, allowing them to access schools, markets, hospitals and nearby towns, regardless of the time of year, or how high or rough the water.

"This has made a great impact to my life," said Seje, gesturing toward the bridge. "I'm able to cross with my vegetables, and my life, at any time."

The Ha-Railee footbridge is just one of several transportation upgrades happening throughout the small, landlocked country, which faces significant mobility challenges due to poor, unevenly distributed road networks. This leaves those living in the country's rural lowlands and highland towns and villages-about 25% of the population-particularly isolated from services and markets in nearby towns.

To increase access for Lesotho's rural citizens, the government aims to construct approximately 44 footbridges through the Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project supported by the World Bank. "Twenty-five footbridges have been completed, with another six planned through the end of the year," said Noor Mohamed, World Bank Task Team Leader for the project. "Nearly 18,000 people are already benefiting from improved access from the 25 footbridges that have been completed," Mohamed said. "This number is expected to more than double once all of the footbridges are finished, connecting villagers to farms, markets, schools, and hospitals all year round."

The project also aims to improve road safety, through strengthening road safety management capacity, and establishing an integrated transport information system. This component supports the government's goal to reduce the number of road deaths in the country. Lepekola Lepekola, a social and environmental specialist with the government, said the project's support to efforts to improve road safety are especially important, because the quality of road infrastructure is poor. "Currently, 10 roads that were damaged by heavy rains are being maintained through the support of the project to ensure safe transportation across the country," he said. "This is key to ensuring improved general safety for citizens-especially students, patients, old-age citizens who are most vulnerable-and to support socioeconomic activities."