In 1995, the government of Morocco launched a national program (Programme National de Routes Rurales), supported by the World Bank, to improve access to roads for the rural population to combat poverty, social isolation, and inequality.1 The program aimed to provide all-weather roads to isolated rural areas by paving and graveling old dirt roads, which are inaccessible to vehicles, and prone to blockage by floods. All-weather roads connect rural areas to different cities, and improve access to basic services such as schools, markets, and health institutions for rural communities. In 2005, the program was expanded with the intention to provide the entire rural population with access to all-weather roads. The program has played a major role in poverty alleviation and reducing inequality for inhabitants of rural areas, particularly by improving access to transport, agriculture, health, and education.
At the start of the program in 1995, almost half of Moroccans (48 percent) lived in rural areas,2 consisting of approximately 70 percent of the country’s poor.3 Prior to the program, only 43 percent of rural villages had access to all-weather roads, 35 percent had access to some roads that were prone to seasonal isolation during floods, and 22 percent were completely disconnected, especially in the mountainous regions.4
As a result, rural populations had reduced access to markets to buy and sell goods, and to healthcare, education, along with other public services and government institutions. Rural women and girls were disproportionately affected. For example, in rural areas, socio-cultural barriers hinder girls’ education, as they are expected to support domestic tasks while boys’ education is prioritized. 5 In 1995, approximately 90 percent of women in rural areas were illiterate.6
To combat rising rural-urban inequality, Morocco’s Rural Roads Program was launched in 1995, and paved the way for other successful programs in rural areas by providing connectivity and access to public services, health, education, and markets.
In 1995, the first phase of the Rural Roads Development Program was launched by the government of Morocco and the World Bank. It provided 11,000 kilometers (kms) of all-weather roads in rural areas, accounting for 20 percent of all roads, through either improving existing roads (6,050 kms) or constructing new roads (4,950 kms).7
The National Highway Agency was responsible for the design and implementation of road improvements and construction, in consultation with local authorities and with technical assistance from the World Bank.8
Following a successful first phase, a second phase was launched in 2005, which ended in 2017.9 The second phase targeted a further 15,000 kms of rural roads,10 and focused on building the capacity of local authorities to manage projects.11
Roads were selected for construction or rehabilitation based on the potential economic impact of the road to the local community, accessibility of the areas served by the road, significance of the road in connecting social and administrative centers, and the agricultural potential of the surrounding area influenced by the road. 12
The first phase (1995 to 2005) of the Rural Roads Development Programme cost USD 194.1 million, financed by the World Bank (USD 57.6 million), OECF Japan (USD 62.9 million), and grant financing (USD 2.2 million). The government of Morocco contributed USD 71.4 million.13
During the same period, the European Investment Bank and French Agency for International Cooperation also supported a different program to develop Morocco’s rural roads in the north of the country. They contributed a further USD 60 million and USD 24 million respectively to rural road construction.14
The second phase (2005 to 2017) of the World Bank project cost USD 132.55 million, of which the World Bank contributed USD 96.55 million and the government of Morocco was responsible for the remaining USD 36 million.
The first phase of the program saw the rural population’s access to an all-weather road increase from 34 percent to 54 percent.15 As a result, transport costs and time traveling were reduced for rural populations; farmers could access resources at reduced prices and grow higher value (perishable) products; rural populations had greater access to health facilities; and enrollment in primary schools doubled.16
Greater access to roads also played a role in promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Girls enrollment in primary schools increased and exceeded that of boys, more women were able to access health services and more births were overseen by health professionals, while the delivery of butane gas to rural homes reduced the time women spent on collecting firewood and enabled them to engage in economic activity.17
2,919,000 rural habitants directly benefited from the second phase, which saw the construction or rehabilitation of 13,438 kms of rural roads. Between 2005 and 2016, the proportion of the population living within one kilometer from a road increased from 54 percent to 79 percent. The second phase continued to benefit school enrollment and literacy in rural areas, access to health facilities, and women’s economic empowerment.18
- 1. World Bank Group, “Morocco’s Infrastructure Review,” May 2020, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/33965/Morocco-Infrastructure-Review.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- 2. “Rural Roads and Poverty Alleviation in Morocco,” World Bank, 2004, p. 7, http://web.worldbank.org/archive/website00819C/WEB/PDF/MOROCCO_.PDF
- 3. “Rural Roads,” p. 6-7.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. UNPO, “Amazigh: Berber Girls Most Affected by High Illiteracy Rate in Morocco,” June 20, 2016, https://unpo.org/article/19267
- 6. “Rural Roads,” 2004, p. 6-7.
- 7. Ibid., p. 6.
- 8. Ibid., p. 5.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. “Road to Opportunities: Building the Future for Morocco’s Rural Population,” World Bank, 2018, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/08/07/road-to-opportunities-building-the-future-for-morocco-s-rural-population
- 12. "Rural Roads," p. 2.
- 13. “Staff Appraisal Report Kingdom Of Morocco Secondary, Tertiary And Rural Roads Project,” World Bank, May 11, 1995, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/204961468779971976/text/multi0page.txt
- 14. "Rural Roads," p. 24-25.
- 15. World Bank Group, “Morocco’s Infrastructure.”
- 16. "Rural Roads," p. 24-25.
- 17. Ibid.
- 18. World Bank, "Road to Opportunities."