Technology Helps Select Haitian Roads for Revamp

USAID/Haiti GIS Specialist Anna Brenes shows local children photos of the nearby road she mapped.
USAID/Haiti GIS Specialist Anna Brenes shows local children photos of the nearby road she mapped.
Anna-Maija Litvak, USAID
Road rehabilitation is vital for livelihoods, access to social services
“We are only scratching the potential of GIS.”

May 2014—In Haiti, roads in rural communities are often damaged by floods and lack of maintenance, affecting people’s well-being and livelihoods. USAID is currently upgrading up to 126 kilometers of roads in northern Haiti, where many households earn a living from agriculture, in addition to over 100 kilometers of roads in the Cul de Sac area, near Port-au-Prince.

“USAID’s Rural Roads Program is improving roads in agricultural communities in Haiti to make it easier for farmers to reach markets and sell their products,” said Anthony Jean-Baptiste, general engineer in the Economic Growth Office of USAID/Haiti. “This will improve access to trade and business, but the benefits go well beyond that.”

Haitian women are particularly affected by the condition of the roads, both as farmers and mothers. Building and improving roads makes it possible for women to more easily reach important services for themselves and their families, including health facilities, schools and shops. This can have a dramatic impact on the well-being of their families. Assessing carefully which roads to improve is especially important to maximize benefits.

Targeting women farmers who play a critical and potentially transformative role in agricultural growth is a priority under USAID’s Feed the Future North agriculture program. In 2012, USAID completed a baseline survey to help determine where and which development needs are greatest.

In northern Haiti, the primary development area of the Feed the Future North project, 66.5 percent of women interviewed said that the distance to health facilities was a serious problem. It became clear that improving rural roads to facilitate motorized transportation should help improve women’s access to health care, while potentially increasing income due to more accessible markets for their agricultural products.

But how do we know which roads have the greatest potential to benefit the rural communities and should be rehabilitated? The geographic information system (GIS) technology that USAID/Haiti has adapted to its development program helped answer this question.

“Over the past year and a half, we have used a handheld GPS unit to mark the roads the Ministry of Agriculture identified for rehabilitation as well as the locations of houses, women-owned and -operated agribusinesses, health centers, schools, markets and other services,” said Anna Brenes, geographic information specialist for USAID/Haiti. “Then we combined this data on a map and, as a result, were able to see which roads have the highest potential to serve the needs of the nearby communities and, particularly, women.”

This mapping exercise, along with extensive field work, cost benefit analyses and coordination with other donor programs, enables USAID to maximize its investment on building rural roads in Haiti and target more women beneficiaries.

“However, we are only scratching the potential of GIS,” noted Brenes. “GIS technology can be used for any discipline. The areas where USAID concentrates its development activities, including the north, Cul-de-Sac and St. Marc areas, were also originally determined through GIS analysis.”

Brenes also recently helped the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture Plant and Animal Health division map hundreds of fruit fly trap locations in areas where mango, Haiti’s biggest agricultural export product, is produced. This information included mapping fruit fly concentrations in “hotspot” maps to help field technicians predict where immediate interventions were required to prevent damage to mango yields, ultimately providing more income to Haitian mango farmers. 

“American taxpayers want the best value for their dollar. GIS technology helps make more accurate assessments for planning development projects and ensures that the U.S. Government investments provide the greatest benefits to the host country recipients,” said Brenes. “Simultaneously, we are building the capacity of the Government of Haiti to use it as an outstanding tool for program coordination with donors and for sustainable development of their own country.”

Last updated: September 25, 2015

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