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President Lungu cutting the ribbon to signify the official launch of the IRCP.

President Edgar Lungu has launched the US$200 million Improved Rural Connectivity Project (IRCP) which aims at improving the feeder road network in Central, Eastern, Luapula, Muchinga, Northern and Southern Provinces.

President Lungu said there can never be a better time than now to launch the IRCP  which would add value to the living standards of the people in the rural areas and ultimately the development of the country.

He said the launch of the project was in addition to other equally important major programmes that were at different levels of implementation in the road sector.

He said one such programme under implementation was aimed at improving inter-urban and urban connectivity and accessibility.

President Lungu said since 2012, the Government embarked on several programmes including Link Zambia 8000, Pave Zambia 2000 and the engineering design, rehabilitation and construction of selected Lusaka urban roads which is well known as the Lusaka 400 or L400.

The launch of the IRCP was held at Fiwila Mission grounds in Mkushi District on July 12.

The development objective of the IRCP is to improve rural road accessibility for communities in selected areas in Zambia and to strengthen institutional capacity for sustainable management of rural roads, and in the event of an eligible crisis or emergency, respond promptly and effectively to the crisis or emergency.

President Lungu commended the World Bank for partnering with the Government of the Republic of Zambia by contributing US$ 200 million to the programme.

“The primary beneficiaries of the project are road users whose travel time and transport cost would be reduced as a result of infrastructure improvements. Currently, much of the primary feeder road network is poorly maintained and connectivity is hampered by unreliability of transport services, slow vehicle operating speeds, high vehicle maintenance costs, poor road safety, and reduced travel comfort.

“Specifically, the beneficiaries will be rural farmers who will have improved access to inputs and markets. the rural communities in general will have better access to health, education and other services,” he said.
President Lungu has disclosed that the IRCP is expected to generate about 25,000 direct job opportunities for Zambians especially the young men and women.

The Head of State has directed Road Development Agency to ensure that all Contractors when employing workers on the project consider locals first.

Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister Hon. Ronald Chitotela said the rural connectivity project would be implemented countrywide.

He announced that once connectivity was improved, it was expected that agriculture production and trade within the beneficiary communities would increase.

Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister Hon. Ronald Chitotela during the launch.

“These objectives will be achieved through an initial rehabilitation of roads to gravel standard and maintenance thereafter, bridge and river crossing construction, construction of drainage structures such as channels, culverts and drifts, construction of storage shades for agricultural produce, construction of water reservoirs, construction of market facilities to facilitate trade," Hon. Chitotela said.

And speaking at the same event, World Bank Group Country Director Mr. Paul Noumba Um announced that the Project was a Scale Up Facility provided as additional development support to well performing Middle- Income Countries.

"This is indeed a special occasion for the World Bank where we established several firsts in our engagement with the Republic of Zambia. I note the amount of US$200 million as being the largest lending operation with the Government of Zambia.

"This project and its design remain relevant for Zambia as it is aligned to the National Development Plan. It stands out as a first and it does not have to be the last Scale Up Facility for Zambia," he said.

World Bank Group Country Director Mr. Paul Noumba Um.

Central Province Minister Hon. Sydney Mushanga said the improved rural connectivity project would not only improve the rural road network but would also help the province attract more investment.

Hon. Mushanga said the connectivity project would also improve access to water, energy, land, health, education and other services on account of improved accessibility to the targeted rural communities.

Hon. Mushanga explained that Mkushi, Mumbwa, Chibombo and Chisamba districts in his province were part of Zambia's Agricultural hubs that were critical in facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing and marketing of agricultural produce locally and internationally.

Central Province Minister Hon. Sydney Mushanga.

"These districts are among the key districts that contribute to the country's agenda of agricultural diversification and food security through production of crops such as Wheat, Cassava, Tobacco, Beans, Sweet Potatoes, Sorghum, Finger Millet and Tomatoes," he said.