How the Kobo-Lalibela road paved the way to SNV’s long-term presence in Ethiopia

Road through mountains

SNV started operating in Ethiopia in 1974 following the devastating drought the country had faced. One of the successful programmes SNV implemented between 1974 and 1979 was the Kobo-Lalibela Road Construction Project, as part of a food-for-work programme. After its success, SNV continued its development support programme at the request of the Ethiopian Government, working in many diverse sectors.

This article is about how the project is sustained and provides insight on how SNV has evolved since then in Ethiopia.

Worku Behonegne and Bart Wesseling met for the first time in 1975 in Ethiopia. Wesseling was one of the two civil engineers recruited to build the Kobo-Lalibela road and Behonegne, now SNV Ethiopia Country Director, assisted them in the construction work. They would not meet again until SNV's 50th year celebration in 2015. Their friendship is rekindled as they set out to visit the all-weather road, a testament to SNV's long-term, local presence in Ethiopia.

Revisiting the Kobo Lalibela road

Revisiting the Kobo Lalibela road. Photo by: Johannis Leeuwenburg

As they met with local government maintenance crews, they were pleasantly surprised to see that, even after 41 years, the road looked as if it had been recently constructed. Regional and local authorities had kept their commitment of maintaining the road after its completion and handover.

The condition of the road in 2018

The condition of the road in 2018. Photo by: Bart Wesseling

Long-term presence

1974 was a year of significance for Ethiopia. After a period of extensive drought and a military coup, a devastating famine followed. There was huge internal displacement and hundreds and thousands of people perished. As the drought situation subsided, mid-term rehabilitation efforts continued in the form of food-for-work programmes around far and inaccessible villages such as in the Kobo-Lalibela region, where many famine victims came from.

What started as a drought and famine emergency response supported by the Dutch government gradually turned to be a long-term collaboration between the Ethiopian government and the Dutch International Cooperation. SNV in Ethiopia implemented and realised a number of projects and programmes specifically designed for the former Lasta District as well as projects in other areas at regional and national scale. The projects designed following the Kobo-Lalibela Road Construction Project include: Golina Hormat Rivers Catchment Rehabilitation Project; Bugna and Gidan Integrated Rural Development Programme; and Meket Rural Development Programme.

Direct results

The construction of the Kobo-Lalibela road prevented starvation for a large number of people as a result of famine. It enabled food transport and avoided migration to the main highway in search of food, even in the years to come. Farmers could remain in the rural area and cultivate their fields. Additionally, the road project provided employment for thousands of people and an essential road infrastructure was realised for Lasta and environs. Half way, at Muja, a health centre was also constructed and staffed. Evidently, the road had contributed to local development.

Success factors

An important factor which contributed to the good condition of the road after 40 years is the great care taken during the design and construction of a durable system to prevent erosion. In summary, a rather inexpensive but well-designed project originating from emergency assistance can have a sustainable effect provided proper maintenance is ensured.

SNV in Ethiopia

SNV has become one of the more prominent development players in Ethiopia since 1974. It is highly regarded by government, private sector, development partners, civil societies, and peer NGOs. Currently, SNV in Ethiopia has diverse donors that include: DFID, USAid, EU, SIDA, and many more. There are currently 17 active projects managed by SNV in Ethiopia. It strongly believes in partnership and facilitates a lot of stakeholder fora to tap on resources of other players.