Basic Access

The concept of Basic Access has come to the fore in recent years with the realisation that for many countries the lower category levels of the national road networks are in a very early stage of development. Often the road networks are not even clearly defined and inventories may not exist, especially at the lowest levels of road category.

Many of the rural tertiary and access routes may be only to earth standard and impassable or difficult to pass at many times of the year; often when harvests need to be transported, but it seems always when somebody needs medical attention!

We know that in developing countries available resources have to be spread thinly, and that this is not always achieved in a rational or equitable way. The fact remains that for the foreseeable future the provision and maintenance of the lowest category of rural roads will always be a significant challenge for engineers and other professionals, governments, communities and other stakeholders.

Basic access has been defined by Lebo and Schelling as follows:

"Basic access is the minimum level of Rural Transport Infrastructure (RTI) network service required to sustain socioeconomic activity. Accordingly, the provision of basic access is often viewed as a basic human right, similar to the provision of basic health and basic education. Consistent with a basic needs focus, the basic access approach gives priority to the provision of reliable, all-season access, to as many villages as possible, over the upgrading of individual links to higher than basic access standard. A basic intervention, in this context, can be defined as the least-cost (in terms of total life-cycle cost) intervention for ensuring reliable, all-season passability for the local prevailing means of transport.

In a particular context of country, the ability to provide basic access is limited by resources. A key question, therefore, that must be posed: what is affordable? Resources for RTI are typically scarce, with very limited support from the central government or other external sources. Affordability therefore will primarily be determined by a population's capacity to maintain their basic access infrastructure over the long term. In cases where motorized basic access is not affordable, improvements to the existing path network and the provision of footbridges may be the only affordable alternative."

Furthermore in some communities, waterborne means of transport (Rural Waterways) may provide the basic access requirements.

On land, in some remote or mountainous areas, we may therefore have the affordable basic access as being an all-weather network of foot, cycle or motorcycle tracks with compatible structures over watercourses (footbridges or cycle bridges). In gentler terrain, basic access may be hardly more than a single vehicle width (for the predominant local vehicle) with shoulders or specific local widening (passing bays) to allow vehicles to pass.


In terms of the travel surface, this may be an earth or engineered natural surface (ENS) for most of the route, with gravel, stone, bitumen, cement based or other surface option techniques used to improve problem sections such as wet areas, hill sections, soils that deform when wet or trafficked. Usually low cost structures will be required to cross low points on the route, watercourses or other obstacles to ensure all-season access. In broad terms, soils with a California Bearing Ratio (CBR) of about 15 or more are likely to be able to support bicycle, motorcycle, animal cart, car and even light truck traffic without major deterioration at modest flows (up to 50 motor vehicles per day equivalent) on a year round basis in low to medium rainfall areas (<2,000mm/year), provided that adequate routine maintenance is arranged.

It is likely that the local community will have a major input to the construction, and certainly the maintenance, of basic access infrastructure. It is therefore essential that they should be consulted regarding all aspects of the planning, financing, resourcing, construction and maintenance of this vital rural infrastructure. They will usually have the labour and basic skills (masonry, carpentry and general building work) that are required to construct and maintain the basic access routes. They will also be very aware of exactly where the problem sections of each route are. Substantial improvements can be achieved by the government, communities, agencies and other interested stakeholders working together to sustainably improve the basic access and reduce local poverty.

In practical terms it cannot be expected that all households will have all-season access to their home door. The World Bank and other sector agencies have developed a Rural Access Index (RAI). This measures the number of rural people who live within two kilometres (typically equivalent to a walk of 20-25 minutes) of an all season road as a proportion of the total rural population. An "all-season road" is a road that is motorable all year round by the prevailing means of rural transport (typically a pick-up or a truck which does not have four-wheel-drive). Occasional interruptions of short duration during inclement weather (e.g. heavy rainfall) are accepted, particularly on lightly trafficked roads.

It is important that the national strategies for rural development and poverty alleviation are incorporated in transport sector policy, with specific recognition and aims for the provision of basic access. Basic Access responsibilities, financing and management arrangements should be clearly set out. Furthermore, policy/strategy on Rural Transport Services is the essential complementary framework component for rural transport provision.

Further considerations should ensure that appropriate and affordable Standards and Specifications are applied to Basic Access roads.

Other documentation relating to basic access includes:-

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Updated March 2010

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