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Australia's AUD72 million investment transforms roads, boosts markets for local women

 Australia's AUD72 million investment transforms roads, boosts markets for local women

A transformative collaboration between Australia and the Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) is not only reshaping Fiji's transport landscape but is also providing better access to markets for local Fijian women vendors.

The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) is a four billion program under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that partners with governments and the private sector in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, to provide grant and loan financing for high-quality, transformational energy, water, transport, telecommunications and other infrastructure projects. One such project in the Pacific is Restoring roads and bridges across Fiji.

The AIFFP in partnership with the Fiji Government has provided an AUD72 million concessional, results-based financing package, to support the island nation in repairing and updating its roads and bridges. The financing package includes a grant of AUD14.7 million for the project. This project is designed to bolster Fiji's post-pandemic economic recovery while simultaneously enhancing its resilience to climate change.

The project includes the renewal or resealing of more than 1.5 million square metres of road surface and the replacement of nine critical bridges which will have up to a 100-year design life, with the ability to withstand a one in 100-year rainfall event. This targeted infrastructure investment forms a cornerstone of Fiji's efforts to promote economic growth and ensure safe, reliable transport networks for its citizens.

In addition to major economic disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fiji has experienced three cyclones in the past two years which have caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. Infrastructure that is climate resilient will help to ensure transport networks remain connected, improve safety and protect against increased travel time and costs.

More than just concrete and steel, this project is a beacon of economic empowerment, which will create local jobs and integrate climate data for ongoing resilience. The overall project  promises safer roads, reduced travel costs, and heightened economic activity. But the impact transcends infrastructure – it reaches the heart of communities including women vendors in these communities who now have improved access to nearby markets to sell their produce and make a living for their families.

Wainawi bridge

Wainawi bridge has been upgraded as part of the project.

One such community member is 46-year-old, Salaseini Seruvatu of Kasavu, Naitasiri Province who now has access to improved transport and market access due to the upgrade of the Wainawi bridge.

‘I’ve lived in Kasavu all my life and the old bridge was very bad as it was in poor condition. There were potholes in the bridge, and this was patched up badly with metal-like substances. When crossing the old bridge, I used to feel unsafe. We had to cross the bridge to get to the shop that is located on the other side, just to buy basic food items and it was a risk. We used to worry about our children who had to travel on buses on the bridge when the weather was bad, the drivers would not come and as a result, our children would miss school’.

‘We the people of Kasavu are grateful to Australia and the Fiji Government for the new upgraded bridge. The bridge upgrade has helped us in our safety. Most of the women in Kasavu, including myself sell our produce such as mussels, sea produce and fresh vegetables at the nearby markets, and before when we sold our produce, on good business days, we were worried about falling tree branches and soil erosion. Now thanks to the bridge upgrade we get the best of both worlds- good for business and more importantly our safety and security’, Mrs Seruvatu added.

Ana Ledua is a fresh water mussel seller in Kasavu.

Ana Ledua is a fresh water mussel seller in Kasavu.

Similar sentiments are shared by another Kasavu resident, Ana Ledua. Mrs Ledua is also a mussel seller and says the upgrade of the Wainawi bridge has been a game changer for her and her family.

‘Mussel selling is my major source of income, that is how I can support my family. Previously I would only go to the manaarket to sell my produce once a week. It was a safety concern for us, and I would make between AUD 40-60 dollars, now with the new improved bridge I sell mussels and fresh fish three days a week and my income has increased to AUD 150-200 dollars a week’.

‘This means I can provide a better life for my family. Vinaka vakalevu Australia and FRA, for this safer bridge that is not just helping me but other women, men, and children in Kasavu. Not only do we feel safer, but we also have better access to health centres, markets and schools,’ Mrs Ledua added.

The project’s road renewal contractors are all locally registered and employ a majority of local Fijian workers and support the renewal or resealing of road surface throughout the country, as well as the replacement of nine critical bridges to ensure that the road network remains connected, promoting economic activity and access to socio-economic opportunities for local communities.

The AIFFP is proud to contribute to the restoration of Fiji's roads and bridges, bringing economic growth, job creation, and improved access to markets for local vendors, particularly empowering Fijian women.

The project is on track for completion in January 2025.