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Cape Verde Trades in Cobblestone for Asphalt Roads

Off the coast of West Africa, transport officials in the island nation of Cape Verde have begun a road improvement program. They say colonial-era cobblestone roads do not make much sense anymore, and are, instead, choosing asphalt. Phuong Tran has more from Cape Verde's capital, Praia.

Arlindo Rosario, the head of the government institute that maintains the islands' approximately 2,000 kilometers of roads, says no one wants to work with stones anymore.

Rosario says before, there were people to change and prepare the rocks, but now, it is almost impossible to find anyone to do that. He says he could not meet his construction deadlines if he had to search for people who can work with stone.

Cape Verde's former colonizer, Portugal, built most of the country's cobblestone roads, which according to some measurements, form about two-thirds of the islands' roads.

For years, officials have talked about fixing decaying roads. Recent donors for this work include the World Bank, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the United States.

The donors say better roads can help fight poverty because Cape Verdean farmers and small business owners can reach markets to sell their products more easily. After years of droughts, Cape Verde still suffers from high levels of rural poverty.

But road institute director Rosario says road repair has been slow.

Rosario says it takes three times as long to build one kilometer of road in stone rather than asphalt. He adds the shortage of stone builders has increased the price of fixing a stone road to four times the cost of building an asphalt one.

As a result, Rosario says his team converted 30 kilometers of stone roads to asphalt, and plans to evaluate another 170 kilometers in the coming years to see if they can be paved.

According to Rosario, this work is part of an almost $60 million road improvement program to repair roads in five of Cape Verde's nine inhabited islands.

One taxi driver in the capital of Praia says he welcomes the new smooth roads that are starting to appear in the capital.

This driver says Cape Verde needs to modernize and catch up with other countries that have long had asphalt roads.

Even though road agency director Rosario admits cobblestone roads can be pretty to admire from a distance, he says up close, they are not practical.

Rosario says he personally prefers asphalt, not only because it makes road construction easier, but also because he will not have to spend as much to fix his car's tires and suspension system.