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Project Update: Evaluating the economic, social and environmental costs of planned road projects in the Amazon Basin

Photo Roads Analysis News September
Highway in Ecuador. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Dr. Morley Read.

New roads in the Amazon region often generate heated debate. Roads can increase employment opportunities and mobility, reduce transportation costs and travel time, and support regional development. But roads can also promote deforestation and forest degradation, threaten biodiversity and ecosystem services, and can put the welfare of local communities and Indigenous people in jeopardy. Because the scope of positive and negative impacts varies dramatically between potential projects, well-informed road network planning can support improved delivery on economic, social, and conservation objectives.

Since early 2018, CSF has been working to identify the relative riskiness of more than 60 planned roads in the Amazon region, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Risk is being evaluated according to economic, social, and environmental criteria, and the results synthesized in a ranking of planned roads, from those with high-expected economic returns and low risk of environmental and social impacts, to those with expected low or negative economic returns and also large social and environmental risks.

Our analysis is groundbreaking in its combination of scope and rigor. It simultaneously estimates the expected economic return of more than 60 road projects, using the World Bank’s Road Economic Decision Model. This analysis requires considerable information for each road, as well as multiple underlying models (e.g., of expected road use), but allows us to generate a credible estimate of economic return, using the same model as used by development banks. The analysis also builds a robust estimation of environmental and social risk combining a deforestation prediction model specific to the region around each road, and the creation of multiple map layers to capture issues of environmental and social priority.

During October, we will present preliminary results to experts from governments, development banks, and environmental NGOs through a series of webinars. Once relevant adjustments have been made, we will hold two to three workshops in each of the five focus countries to present the results to decision makers, infrastructure developers, and partners. If results are as expected, we will make a strong case to governments and investors that better road planning can concurrently promote or at least carefully balances economic growth, social concerns, and the conservation of natural resources.

This project is carried out in close collaboration with our partners from the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), and the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS), and is made possible with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.