While access to means of transport is inevitably a problem for poor people in the South, the
lack of transport infrastructure can also isolate a rural area completely. Richard Tufnell
demonstrates an inexpensive way to overcome a common problem using local materials
In many parts of the world, where heavy seasonal rains occur, access and transport
problems can arise in remote rural regions during the rainy season. In these areas the most
common type of road is made of dirt, and these range from good government-maintained
roads to tracks where more or less the only form of maintenance is the clearance of stones
to one side. Many villages and homesteads are served only by these smaller, locally
constructed tracks, and as they do not have bridges they are impassable by vehicles and
pedestrians during the wettest periods, causing great hardship. Children are unable to attend
school and supplies
cannot be brought in.
Some local bus
companies will not
provide a service at
any time if they
cannot use a route all
the year round, so
these remote
communities feel
even more isolated. It
is also much more
difficult for local
people to obtain jobs
if they have no regular
form of transport to
use, and such regular
necessities as
shopping are made
long and difficult.
People are very
aware that bridges
can solve these
problems, but normal
bridges are very expensive and money is rarely available. Efforts are often made to make a
line of stones so that people can at least cross on foot without becoming wet or muddy, but
such is the force of the water at certain times of the year that these are invariably washed
away. It would seem that little can be done, but in fact there is a very inexpensive and very
strong method of providing access at all times of the year, and that is a dry stone causeway.
A causeway is very like a bridge and serves exactly the same purpose, with one exception: it
is designed so that it can be submerged under water during very heavy rains. A concrete
version of this is known as a 'low bridge, and examples can be seen in many parts of Africa.
But building a causeway with dry stone - in other words without using any form of cement or
concrete - has several major advantages.
First, it is inexpensive. The only cost is for some sections of drainpipe and possibly the hire
of a tractor and trailer, small lorry or other means of transport for a few days. Often these
items can be obtained from a local NGO or other community organisation. All the material in
other words the stone is free and removing many tonnes for the causeway can make the
surrounding land much easier to cultivate.
Secondly, although some skill is required and an understanding of the principles and how to
build it is necessary, it is something that can be quickly learned. Indeed, careful reading of
this article should enable anybody to organise the building of a causeway.
Figure 1: An inexpensive and strong method of providing access at all times of the year:
a dry stone causeway