In a country five times as large as the UK, but without an extensive rail network, road transportation in Ethiopia is paramount. Over the last seven years there has been a massive increase in funds allocated for road construction. State spending on roads accounts for a quarter of each year's infrastructure budget and the government has earmarked the equivalent of $4 billion to build, upgrade and repair roads over the next ten years under the Road Sector Development Program (RSDP).
This reflects the government's recognition of the importance of the road sector for national economic growth and for profiting to a maximum from the country's assets. The RSDP was launched in 1997 and during its first five years, the intention is to maintain, rehabilitate and upgrade the main trunk roads, link roads and regional roads. The government will build 3,833 km of asphalt roads, 1,390 km of feeder roads and 5,399 km of gravel roads; recondition 2,613 of asphalt roads; and carry out ‘heavy maintenance' on 1,575 km of existing gravel roads. A Road Fund, which is being financed by a levy on fuel prices, is designed to ensure a flow of funds for the maintenance of the road network.
Spending is concentrated on the five main arteries radiating from Addis Ababa toward Jimma, Awassa, Adigrat and Djibouti. To kick-start the programme the World Bank is providing $309 million, the EU $300 million, the African Development Bank $104 million while the Ethiopian government is investing $940 million. Preparations are in progress for the 326 km Addis Ababa-Jimma road and the 513 km Addis Ababa-Woldiya road.
Ethiopia's new and upgraded airports facilitate the transport of goods and encourage investment. There are now two international airports – Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa – and both have seen an encouraging increase in passenger and freight transport over the last few years. New passenger and cargo terminals have been built at Dire Dawa airport and are now fully operational. Smaller airports such as Bahir Dar have been upgraded. In order to encourage tourism five major airports – Arba Minch, Lalibela, Mekele, Axum and Gondar have been singled out for upgrading; improvements at the first three airports are already complete and work on the last two will be completed by early 1999. The opening of the new airport at Arba Minch has opened up wide-ranging economic opportunities for the lush south.
Upgrading works have also been completed at Semera, Robe (Goba) and Jijiga airfields. Upgrading of Asosa, Combolcha (Dessie), Shire, Negelle, Kebri Dar, Shilabo, Humera, Gambella and Shire airfields will be completed by 1999.