Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Long bus rides, and the high cost of lousy infrastructure in Honduras

A bridge installation didn't go well in Olancho last month; communities will continue to be isolated in the rainy season
Paul Willcocks
I’ve made the trip to Tegucigalpa, the capital, a couple of times in the last few weeks. 
It take about eight and a half hours from Copan Ruinas, with a stop in San Pedro Sula to change buses.
It’s comfortable. Cuso encourages people to use Hedman Alas, a high-end bus line that makes a big deal about security. Airport-style check-ins, with hand baggage checks, a metal detector and a digital snapshot of every passenger. (I’m not sure how that is supposed to increase security, but I smile for the camera.) No stops along the way. And the buses are new, with comfortable seats, and an odd selection of movies. (Coming home on the weekend, I had Furry Vengeance with Brendan Fraser, whose presence is a reliable indicator that a movie will be bad, and The Reunion, a WWE-produced action vehicle for wrestler John Cena.) For a few dollars more, you can even go Ejecutivo Plus - sort of a bus business class.
Eight hours is still a long time. The distance between the two cities, as the crow flies, is about 220 kilometres. But Honduras is mountainous, and the roads follow the valleys where possible. 
The total travel distance is actually 435 kms.
The mathematically astute will have realized that means the average speed for the journey, mostly on the country’s main highways, is about 55 km/h.
The long trip to Tegucigalpa is no big deal for me. But for businesses that need to get there or make deliveries, it adds cost and time. For small producers, it’s a big barrier to getting goods and crops to urban markets. 
The problem is even worse off the main roads. By official count, Honduras has 14,296 kms of roads. Less than a quarter of them are paved - about 3,200 kms. A Peruvian economist who spoke in Tegus last week, Enrique Cornejo Ramírez, estimated that only 10 per cent of the road network is in fair condition.
The paved roads, with some exceptions, aren’t good: Potholes, washouts, never-ending construction.
And the unpaved roads are much worse. They wind up steep hillsides and ford streams, and wash out in the rainy season and turn to dust in the dry. I was at a workshop on adding value for small farmers and co-ops. It was hard to talk about expanding markets or product differentiation when people’s first problem was that they couldn’t get their honey eight kms to the nearest town because the road was frequently impassable. When they can only sell locally, they face competition from all the other farmers growing the same things, and get lower prices.
Read more here.

No comments:

Post a Comment