[ Problem Addressed | Beneficiaries | ESCAP's
Role and Achievements | Follow-up Action ]
Recognizing the economic
and social benefits which could result from the linking of the countries of Asia -- and
eventually the continents of Europe and Asia -- by an international highway, the
Governments supported the establishment of the Asian Highway.
Early on, national routes were designated to be part of the international network but
many gaps existed between them. Furthermore, standards for roads and bridges, road signs
and markings, pavement condition and road traffic flows, differed considerably among the
While the initial phase of the project faced problems such as political differences
among some members of the project, subsequent improvements in the political climate,
expanded membership to include the Central Asian Republics, the Russian Federation and
Turkey and more cooperation within and between subregional groupings have provided new
opportunities for enhanced cooperation through the Asian Highway. Technological
developments, such as the introduction of freight containerization, have also had a great
impact on the development of the Asian Highway.
In recent years, the Asian Highway project has become absorbed within broader
initiatives. It is undergoing integration with the Trans-Asian Railway project under the
Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development (ALTID) project. ALTID, in turn, is a
priority project under the New Delhi Action Plan on Infrastructure Development in Asia and
the Pacific (1997-2006).
Planners within the national land transport departments of the participating countries
have been among the early beneficiaries of the Asian Highway project. It assists them in
planning the most cost-effective and efficient routes to promote domestic and
international trade. Similarly, landlocked areas, which are often left in isolation, are
the other beneficiaries of the Asian Highway project. The project also pays particular
attention to the inhabitants, traders and travellers whose lives revolve around the Asian
Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge at Mae Sot, Thailand
The Asian Highway project, launched under the auspices of ESCAP, has provided a forum
for policy makers to review, assess and identify international highway routes. Through
this forum, participating Asian countries have agreed to minimize the number of roads for
inclusion in the Asian Highway network and to maximize the use of existing infrastructure.
They have agreed to coordinate the development of their transport infrastructure on a
regional basis, taking into account existing and potential trade and tourism flows.
Through ESCAP, countries have also defined what linkages should receive priority under
the Asian Highway network, taking into account:
- capital-to-capital links for international transport;
- connections to main industrial and agricultural centres as well as growth triangles and
zones (links to important origin and destination points);
- connections to major sea and river ports (integration of land and water transport
- connections to major container terminals and depots (integration of road and rail
To encourage intercountry
trade and tourism, ESCAP continues to promote measures for easier cross-border travel,
which is especially important for the landlocked countries of Asia. To this end ESCAP
conducts research and analysis, including the regular collection and collation of data,
supported by the Government of Japan. From the early stages of the Asian Highway project
in the 70s, roads experts from JICA and the Express Highway Research Foundation of Japan
have contributed to the formulation of the Highway network by producing maps, developing
databases and providing advisory services.
Through continuing efforts, the Asian Highway network is growing and its missing links
are being spanned. The Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge was constructed in 1997, following a
feasibility study by ESCAP funded by the Government of Japan. Thus, another gap was
traversed along the Asian Highway's Route A-1.
Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge over the Moei River, Connecting Mae
Sot, Thailand, and Myawaddy, Myanmar
India has been an active member of the Asian Highway project since its inception. A
number of road engineers from India have participated in Japanese-financed training
activities conducted by ESCAP. As one of the largest countries in Asia, both in terms of
land area and population, India depends heavily on its road network for transporting
domestic freight, including daily necessities. Traffic is increasing and so is the need
for new construction and improved maintenance of roads. Thus, the Government of India is
mobilizing resources through such means as road development funds, and is developing a
legal framework for the introduction of build-operate-transfer (BOT) schemes. The project
evaluation team travelled on the Asian Highway, along Route A-1, a major trunk route
between New Delhi and Agra. Besides supporting a well-established touristic and industrial
traffic, Route A-1 has attached a thriving and diversified range of commercial activities
including factories, recreation facilities, road stalls and numerous "Dhabas"
(road side accommodations for long distance truck drivers).
Route A-1, India
To date, the Asian Highway covers international trunk routes of about 90,000 kilometres
in length, transiting 25 countries.
Given its extensive geographical coverage, and the recent move to integrate it with
other means of transportation, the Asian Highway project requires collective efforts and
close collaboration among the countries of Asia. Further development of the Asian Highway
network will focus on such areas as:
- Facilitating land transport at border crossings and maritime transport at ports, through
the application in Asia of relevant international conventions and agreements regarding
transportation along land and land-cum-sea routes;
- Completing the formulation of the Asian Highway network to cover the whole of Asia,
including the completion of missing links;
- Encompassing the Asian Highway network within a legal framework in the form of an
"ESCAP agreement on the Asian Highway routes/network";
- Improving the operational efficiency of the Asian Highway routes;
- Improving transport logistics; and
- Promoting use of the Asian Highway through the mass media and tourism authorities, and
creating a greater awareness of its potential.
The progress made so far on the Asian Highway provides a solid basis
for its further development. The new agreement between the Bangladesh-India-Myanmar-Sri
Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC) members to further develop the Asian
Highway connections between their countries is one example of the potential of this
project for strong and lasting regional cooperation.