A primary challenge contributing to low economic integration in the Arab region are limited and antiquated railway systems. The Arab region has only 7 kilometres of railroad per 100,000 persons, compared to 40 in the European Union, 70 in and 15 as a world average. The region’s road infrastructure is likewise underwhelming. The region has 220 kilometres of roadway per 100,000 persons, compared to 2,000 in the European Union and the United States and 875 as a world average. The region also suffers from poor transport services, with 57 percent lost time due to stops at borders and 38 percent extra invisible costs.
Arab states tend to assess their transport networks in isolation of the overall regional network and integration goals. Evidence-based policymaking in relation to infrastructure is needed throughout the region and road and rail planning and projects need to take regional connectivity and integration into consideration. Without strategic infrastructure, the region cannot meet its decent work and economic growth potential.
Towards a Solution
The ESCWA Transport Geographic Information System (GIS) Platform provides ESCWA Member States with the capacity to monitor the performance of their own transport networks and facilities in the context of the overall regional transport network and regional integration landscape. With this tool, policymakers in the region can make appropriate decisions based on gaps and potential connectivities illustrated through the GIS facility.
Due to the broad nature of the challenge, the project is leveraging a multi-stakeholder approach and partnered with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and Center for Western-Mediterranean Transportation Studies (CETMO) to develop the GIS tool.
The project produced a GIS tool and is training national focal points in ministries of transport of ESCWA Member States to use the tool for analysis. A regional workshop entitled “Corridors for Vital Connectivity in the Arab Region” was conducted to initiate the project, which was followed by finetuning of the tool. Next, four regional capacity building workshops targeted national focal points to enable the monitoring of national transport networks and facilities and their transboundary connectivity contributions.
This project has enabled countries across the region to learn from each other through South-South exchanges on data collection and analysis required to assess the status of road and rail transport networks. With upgraded data collection and analysis capacities, the ministries of transport can better identify specific infrastructure gaps that require addressing in order to upgrade the performance of their national transport networks and associated facilities, not only in terms of quality of construction, but ensuring the added value of regional connectivity.
The project identified regional and global benchmarks for Member States to consider and has utilized open-source applications to enable cloud storage, thus making remote access possible by national focal points of Member States. This helps to level the playing field among Member States whose information technology capabilities vary.
By streamlining and standardizing missing links and gaps against the movement and flows of goods the project is helping the region enhance its regional integration and performance. The project’s sustainability is assured through the continuous integration of the tool within the International Transport Infrastructure Observatory managed by ECE in cooperation with other regional commissions. The tool will be regularly followed up at annual meetings of the ESCWA committee on transport and logistics.
The tool was identified as a suitable component of the global initiative on International Transport Infrastructure Observatory (ITIO), under development jointly by UNECE and other regional commissions. Thus, the system created by ESCWA has not only enabled the Arab region to become better positioned for much-needed regional integration, but also to connect more effectively with other regions of the world.