Connecting communities with vital services

In the remote parts of countries like Rwanda, Peru and Nicaragua, walking is the primary form of transportation and many people have to walk much further than they need to get to river crossing points because there aren’t the bridges.

Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) not only builds bridges but also teaches communities how to build and maintain these connections to healthcare, education and employment. Its projects span the globe, bringing people together through construction training. In total, the organisation has completed 203 bridges in 20 countries and 65,000 return trips are made every day.

Bridges to Prosperity gets to the heart of sustainable travel. It’s amazing the di erence that footbridges are making to so many people in rural communities.

Ashden judging panel

Pedestrian-focused infrastructure

Walking is the primary means of travel in most rural parts of the developing world. Crossing rivers on foot to get to schools, clinics, jobs and markets is o en hazardous, and communities can be isolated for weeks by a ooded river. Despite the fact that globally, one in seven people travels entirely on foot, most government transportation planning focuses on infrastructure for motor vehicles, and not pedestrians.

Old-style log bridge river crossing in Rwamawha, Uganda

The organisation developed an innovative approach, partnering with governments and communities to provide footbridges at sites where there is local demand and the potential for significant social impact.

Suspended and suspension footbridges are built to B2P’s standard designs by teams of local volunteers and labourers, who work with professional volunteers from world-class engineering companies. Local materials are used for the foundations and bridge deck, and repurposed steel for the structural components. A group of community members is trained to maintain the bridge.

Impact

The 203 footbridges constructed to date by B2P serve rural communities totalling nearly one million people and about 65,000 return trips are made each day.

The impact of a footbridge on individuals and communities can be enormous. Multi-year monitoring of footbridge programmes in Nepal found that, among the population served by a new footbridge, 12% more children enrol in school and there is a 24% increase in healthcare treatment, an 18% increase in women employed, and a 15% increase in local business.

Our children now get three more years of education, because they don’t have to wait until they are big enough to cross the river on a log bridge before they start school.

Philomene Mukavumera, Rutenderi and Rwamawha footbridge user, Rwanda

How the programme works

Globally, there are around 100,000 more communities that could benefit from the footbridges that Bridges to Prosperity builds. B2P has ambitious plans to grow its work, with a target to build 100 bridges per year by 2020. All footbridge designs are open-source, so that others can use them to achieve greater impact.

B2P identifies sites for footbridges in partnership with a district or national government, and will work only where there is clear demand from the local community and a commitment to help with construction and long-term maintenance. When possible, bridges are built at existing crossing points, and in a manner that does not impact on the natural flow of the river. Each site is surveyed to assess the technical feasibility and cost of a bridge, as well as its potential social impact.

Priority is given to sites which offer the greatest social impact, for example where a river crossing currently prevents students from reaching school

Priority is given to sites which offer the greatest social impact (for example where a river crossing currently prevents students from reaching school). B2P has developed standard designs for both suspended and suspension footbridges, with the type chosen depending on the topology of the site. All bridges are strong enough to carry a full load of pedestrians, along with bicycles, animals and motorbikes.

Direct funding for bridges is mainly provided through grants and donations from the USA and UK, with contributions in both materials and labour from local governments. A number of engineering and construction companies from the USA and UK work in partnership with B2P, providing funding as well as professional volunteers to work with local teams on bridge projects.

Bridge construction and maintenance

Sites are excavated and bridge foundations built by local labourers using rock, gravel and sand from the immediate vicinity where suitable. Wood for the bridge deck is also sourced locally unless deforestation is a major concern. Steel for structural components is often unavailable locally, or prohibitively expensive. B2P has therefore developed a global supply chain of reused and repurposed steel from port authorities and construction sites.

Bridges have a design life of 25–30 years without major repair, and should last for 70 years or more with proper maintenance

Each footbridge has a cable handrail on each side, with safety fencing between the handrail and the deck. B2P staff oversee the construction team of community members and international volunteers, using each site to train local masons and superintendents and, where possible, local engineering students. It takes about two months to construct a footbridge.

Each bridge is maintained by a local committee, with professional structural checks every few years. Bridges have a design life of 25–30 years without major repair, and should last for 70 years or more with proper maintenance.