Road Sector Support Program: Developing Adaptive Capacity for Climate Change in Nicaragua

Context of Transport Climate Action

Central America has coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, making the region vulnerable to the increased frequency and intensity of extreme climate phenomena. Climate projections for Central America show a steady increase in extreme weather events.

Nicaragua has one of the lowest road densities per person of any Latin American country. The road infrastructure is increasingly affected by climate change,[1] and the economic impacts, especially from severe rainfall events, are often substantial, mainly through loss of access due to damage to roads, culverts, and bridges.

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) is the agency responsible for organising and directing transport policy and for planning, preparing, contracting and administering road improvement, construction and rehabilitation projects. MTI currently has no methodology for considering the impacts of climate change phenomena when planning its investments. The knowledge base in the Ministry is insufficient, technical capacity and tools are needed, norms and standards are outdated, and climate change aspects are not part of the present road planning system.

The National Road Maintenance Fund (FOMAV) was established in 2005 to provide regular maintenance of the existing road network. FOMAV is financed by a gasoline and diesel tax that, presently, brings in USD 24 million annually. However, the ongoing efforts by MTI and FOMAV to maintain the national road network are not adequate since there is a large backlog of rehabilitation and maintenance needs exceeding the available funding. Furthermore, many existing roads are of sub-standard quality, and the weight control of vehicles is insufficient. These issues are interrelated in the sense that poor or inadequate maintenance increases the climate vulnerability of existing roads and decreases the life span of individual roads, impacting the entire road network. This situation has led to an adaptation deficit in the road sector that will continue to grow unless a robust adaptation program is put in place.

[1] Almost 2% of annual GDP in Nicaragua was lost due to extreme weather events in the period 1991-2010. Global Climate Risk Index 2012.


The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) provides credit to the Government of Nicaragua to implement a Road Sector Support Program. The general objective is to make road transport in Nicaragua more efficient in order to stimulate economic activity and contribute to the well-being of the population, while facilitating integration within the country and with the rest of Central America. The Nordic Development Fund (NDF) provides EUR 4.4 million to support a climate change adaptation component as part of the IDB Road Sector Support Program. The main objective of the NDF support is to develop adaptive capacity in key institutions and integrate climate change aspects into planning and design of road transport infrastructure.

The IDB sector support program addresses several of the key issues related to road quality, weight control, capacity and funding. NDF support focuses on the incremental changes in risks and the longer-term climate change impacts. This is done through building institutional adaptive capacity, methodology and tools development, revision of norms and technical standards, and integration of climate change aspects into road planning and design.

The IDB program has five components:

1) Upgrading of 380 km of rural access roads and the trunk network, including paving work, structural reinforcement, drainage, geometric improvement, and replacement or construction of bridges;

2) Contributing to improving MTI management and control over vehicle weights and dimensions plus a strengthening of the MTI Municipal Roads Department;

3) Improving road safety including signage, sidewalks and bicycle paths;

4) Reducing vulnerability and climate adaptation; and

5) Strengthening institutional planning and management capacity of FOMAV in addition to financing of 580 km special maintenance works.

NDF support is embedded in the component on reducing vulnerability and climate adaptation and focuses on:

a) developing adaptive capacity in Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) and National Road Fund;

b) improving the knowledge base for planning and decision-making; and

c) providing practical experience through pilot projects.


NDF provides parallel grant funding directly to the Implementing Agency, which is the Nicaraguan Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI). The MTI has contracted an international consortium led by IDOM to provide technical assistance. The long-term technical assistance team worked with MTI to facilitate the following activities:

  • Map relevant stakeholder capacity at central and municipal level, and their readiness to undergo changes
  • Identify capacity needs and develop training and capacity plan
  • Review of the technical standards, manuals, and design criteria in order to include the issue of vulnerability to climate change in planning, design and operation of the road infrastructure
  • Disseminate and provide training on the revised technical standards and guidelines to relevant stakeholders including municipalities and private sector
  • Prepare and facilitate workshops and training sessions on climate change adaptation in the transport sector
  • Establish inter-institutional cooperation between MTI, FOMAV, INETER, and other key institutions including universities and research centers
  • Analysis of legal and institutional framework for transport sector to incorporate climate change aspects
  • Collect credible climate data and prepare climate change profile and vulnerability scenarios
  • Downscaling of climate change models to refine the identification of potential climate impacts on road infrastructure
  • Vulnerability mapping of road network
  • Develop no-regret options for road adaptation measures that will provide win-win situations for involved stakeholders
  • Develop priority/decision-making tool for climate-proofing that takes into account risks and economic assessments plus short- and long-term sustainability issues
  • Use the climate-proofing tool to identify and screen possible candidates for selection of projects to pre-investment level.
  • Identification and selection of pilot projects and elaboration of pre-investment studies and design
  • Implementation of 2-3 pilot projects to explore adaptation measures (methods, technology, approach and organization)
  • Monitor, collect and document lessons learned from pilot projects to feedback into policy-making and knowledge management processes.


The main beneficiaries are the key institutions that are responsible for road transport infrastructure in Nicaragua. NDF support fills a gap because currently the MTI technical staff has no experience in dealing with adaptation to climate change. This lack of experience is also a reason for the strong emphasis on technical assistance; training and capacity-building. The NDF component is embedded in the overall IDB Transport Sector Support Program and works across all components to ensure that climate change aspects are taken into account in the other institutional development activities, road maintenance, rehabilitation, and safety components.

The NDF support will secure results at all levels:

  1. mainstreaming and institutional development;
  2. capacity-building; and
  3. hands-on experience through the implementation of selected pilot projects.

Other benefits include:

  1. Revising road design standards to include climate change aspects where relevant;
  2. Reviewing the legal and institutional framework for the transport sector to incorporate climate change where relevant;
  3. Design solutions for key vulnerable hot spots in the national road network and some of these will be implemented.

Other beneficiaries are the Nicaraguan population, who will benefit from a more resilient road transport network.

Potential for scaling up

NDF has a constructive dialogue with IDB and it is expected that approaches and results from this project will be replicated in other IDB transport programs in Latin America.

NDF has shared the Nicaragua project design with stakeholders in Africa and key elements are found in the design of similar projects in Mozambique and Zambia. In both Mozambique and Zambia the projects will undertake vulnerability mapping, revise design standards and undertake comprehensive training and capacity building.

Selected references









Latin America, Adaptation, Freight, Passenger, Policy, Technology, Awareness, Partnerships


Nordic Development Fund and Inter-American Development Bank


Aage Jørgensen:

This type of capacity building is important since it helps identify weaknesses within the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure and how to address these. With the different situations that arise due to severe weather situations the training and technical assistance provide us with opportunities to expand and improve our understanding of mitigation and adaptation to climate change and can thus help the Ministry overcome institutional weaknesses.
-Carlos Silva, Director of Road Maintenance, Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, Nicaragua