TRAVEL IMPACT NEWSWIRE -- Edition 28 -- Thursday, 29 April 2004
From Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, in Bangkok
In this dispatch :
1. 25 NATIONS SIGN ASIAN HIGHWAY ACCORD: In the midst of almost total
preoccupation with low-cost airlines, an even more low-cost means of
transport, roads and highways, took a major step forward this week
with the signing of a pan-Asian agreement to develop the vast Asian
2. WHAT IS THE ASIAN HIGHWAY? Travel Impact Newswire executive editor
Imtiaz Muqbil was hired by the United Nations as the editorial
consultant in compiling a handbook to identify some the key tourist
spots along the Asian Highway. This feature excerpted from the
handbook explains the background to the highway and its importance to
Asia-Pacific transport, trade and travel.
1. 25 NATIONS SIGN ACCORD ON ASIAN HIGHWAY NETWORK
SHANGHAI (UN Information Services) -- Exceeding early estimates, 25
Asian countries signed an international agreement for completing a
transcontinental network of standardized roadways, at the historic
60th economic summit of the United Nations Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) which ended here on 28
The Highway is a multi-pronged 140,000-kilometer highway corridor
connecting 32 countries and linking Europe to Asia. The landmark UN
treaty, the Asian Highway Agreement, was signed by 25 countries with
India and the Russian Federation signing the day after the signing
ceremony on 26 April. Marking a new era in communications, the
agreement opens up all sorts of opportunities for trade and
tourism from Tokyo to Tehran, from Singapore to Samarkand, and from
points beyond to those in between.
The completed highway will further facilitate border-crossing for
people, vehicles and goods, and also impart crucial benefits to
landlocked countries, as provided for in a United Nations conference
last August in Alamaty, Kazakhstan. ESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-
Su said at the signing ceremony, "We like to call this `the new silk
route', and what better place than Shanghai to have marked this new
phase in intergovernmental relations and cooperation among ESCAP
Bangkok-based ESCAP has been negotiating routes and road
specifications for the network since 1992. The text of an agreement
for upgrading sub-standard stretches and making provisions for new
routes was agreed by 32 participating countries in November of 2003.
At that time, UN officials had estimated that 10-15 nations would
have completed the necessary approval processes to be ready
to sign at the ESCAP annual meeting in April 2004. Last week, up to
20 signings were projected.
The early show of support for the project "clearly demonstrates the
desire and capacity of Asian countries to work together, now and for
the future, to achieve common goals", said Mr Kim. Remaining
participating countries can sign on to the agreement later at the UN
Headquarters in New York, according to UN officials. ESCAP officials
estimate that the network is 83 per cent complete, with an additional
US$16 billion required to invest in highway upgrades and signage.
2. WHAT IS THE ASIAN HIGHWAY?
In centuries past, great explorers embarked by land and sea in search
of new worlds and riches. Like today, the purpose of travel was to
explore new horizons, learn from different cultures, trade, or simply
to secure food, shelter and means of subsistence for families and
communities. They returned with tales of exotic lands, strange
animals and fascinating customs of peoples living in these lands.
Today's modern explorers do not need to sit riveted to their chairs
listening to the tales and marvelling at the richness of the
cultures. The Asian Highway allows them to experience at first hand
the accounts that were relayed by great explorers.
In 1959, the Asian Highway project was conceived partially to
resurrect those dreams, of trade and travel and to bring the world
closer together. In doing so the Asian Highway promotes social
progress and better standards of life in larger freedom as laid down
in the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations.
In the 1960s and 1970s, considerable progress was achieved in
identifying a regional road network with active cooperation of member
countries. In the late 1980s, the Asia-Pacific region as a whole
emerged as a dynamic arena of economic growth. Demand increased for
reliable and efficient road transport, which proved to be a versatile
and cost-effective mode for moving large numbers of people and goods
In 1992, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the
Pacific (ESCAP) endorsed the Asian Land Transport Infrastructure
Development (ALTID) project comprising of the Asian Highway and the
Trans-Asian Railway network as well as facilitation of land
transport. The Asian Highway project is one of the cornerstones of
ALTID. The formalization of the Asian Highway, through the
Intergovernmental Agreement on Asian Highway Network adopted in
November 2003, has brought the project to a new turning point in its
CONCEPT OF THE ASIAN HIGHWAY NETWORK
Developing an international highway network is a hugely expensive and
time-consuming exercise. It involves building roads of common
standards through vastly different kinds of terrain, ranging from
mountains to deserts, crossing rivers and traversing forests. Because
many ESCAP member countries cannot afford the high costs of building
such a comprehensive network, it was agreed that the basic thrust of
the Asian Highway project would be to coordinate the development and
upgrading of existing regional highways among member countries.
In this regard, participating countries agreed that the basic
underlying principles for the Asian Highway network would be to
include only major national roads in the network and to make the
maximum use of existing roads, avoiding the construction of new
highways except in cases where deemed necessary to complete "missing
links". Furthermore, the criteria used to select the road, rail and
road-cum-rail routes should provide for:
a. Capital-to-capital links: To promote international transport and
b. Connections to main industrial and agricultural centres: To
promote links between areas of economic activity
c. Connections to major sea and river ports: To integrate land and sea
d. Connections to major container terminals and depots: To integrate
rail and road networks
e. Connections to major tourist attractions: To promote use of Asian
Highway by tourists
IDENTIFYING THE NETWORK
The process of identifying the roads to be included in the Asian
Highway network began in the late 1950s, but it was mainly after
1992, when the ALTID project was endorsed by ESCAP, that the network
formulation process was taken up in earnest. The ESCAP secretariat
was tasked with the complex task of coordinating the development of
the Asian Highway network by facilitating discussion among member
countries. With the financial assistance from the Government of
Japan, it conducted a series of studies, the first of which was
published in 1995. This study identified 29 Asian Highway routes,
totaling 69,000 kilometres.
In 1996, a second study was completed on the Asian Highway network in
Central Asia and the South Caucasus, leading to the inclusion of a
further 13 routes totalling 21,000 kilometers. In 1999, the Asian
Highway routes in Turkey were agreed upon, adding a further 3,200
kilometres to the network.
The ALTID implementation strategy stressed the importance of the
formulation of the Asian Highway network to cover all of Asia.
Building on this momentum, a third study was completed in 2001 and
identified the Asian Highway routes in China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia,
the Russian Federation and the Korean peninsula. These routes formed
the Northern Corridor of the Asian Highway, effectively linking North-
East Asia with Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe. About 40,000
kilometers of road network were included in the network.
In 2001 and 2002, Asian Highway routes were identified in Georgia and
Bhutan respectively. An Expert Group Meeting held in May 2002 amongst
30 member countries reviewed the entire network and extended it to
towns and cities in 31 countries, covering a total of 140,000
kilometres. In November 2003, Japan joined the Asian Highway project
by including the Tokyo-Fukuoka section in the network. Brunei
Darussalam has also expressed a keen interest to join.
FORMALIZATION OF THE ASIAN HIGHWAY NETWORK
As the final step in the formalization of the Asian Highway Network,
an Intergovernmental Agreement was adopted in November 2003. The main
obligations of the Contracting Parties within the Agreement are to
adopt the Asian Highway network as a coordinated plan for the
development of highway routes of international importance; bring the
network in conformity with the Asian Highway classification and
design standards; and facilitate navigation along the routes through
the placement of adequate signage along the Asian Highway routes.
The Agreement was prepared by a Working Group on Asian Highway set up
by the fifty-eighth session of ESCAP on the recommendation of the
Ministerial Conference on Infrastructure held in Seoul in 2001. It is
based on the European Agreement of Main International Traffic
Arteries. This is the Agreement that was signed during the 60th
session of the Commission in Shanghai.
(i) The Asian Highway routes
The formal definition of the Asian Highway routes is included as an
annex to the Intergovernmental Agreement. Provisions exist within the
Agreement to convene a Working Group to periodically review the
(ii) Asian Highway Classification and Design Standards
Asian Highway routes are required to conform to minimum standards of
classification and design in terms of construction, improvement and
maintenance. This is intended to uphold quality standards and enhance
recognition among users. Member countries have agreed to make every
possible effort to conform to these provisions both in the
construction of new routes and in modernizing existing ones.
(iii) Numbering and signage
Like airline flights, Asian Highway routes have been assigned numbers
to help make them easy to identify on maps as well as via signage
along the routes themselves. The principles for assigning route
numbers is as follows:
1. Route numbers begin with "AH", which stands for "Asian Highway",
followed by one, two or three digits.
2. Single-digit route numbers from 1 to 9 are assigned to Asian
Highway routes which substantially cross more than one subregion.
3. Sets of two- and three-digit route numbers are assigned to
indicate the routes within subregions, including those connecting to
a neighbouring subregion, and highway routes within member States as
(a) Route numbers 10-29 and 100-299 are allocated to South-East Asia
which includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's
Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand and Viet Nam;
(b) Route numbers 30-39 and 300-399 are allocated to East and North-
East Asia which includes China, the Democratic People's Republic of
Korea, Japan, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and the Russian
Federation (Far East);
(c) Route numbers 40-59 and 400-599 are allocated to South Asia which
includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka;
(d) Route numbers 60-89 and 600-899 are allocated to North, Central
and South-West Asia which includes Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Georgia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the
Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The Asian Highway signage is rectangular in shape and consists of the
letters AH followed by the route number with a white or black
inscription affixed to or combined with other signs which can be
easily identified and understood by drivers.
PROMOTION OF THE ASIAN HIGHWAY
ESCAP member countries have been working to develop and upgrade AH
routes within their national plans and policies. Much still remains
to be done in terms of constructing missing links such as bridges,
upgrading of substandard sections and allocating adequate funding for
maintenance of the AH routes.
It is now critical to promote a greater awareness amongst policy-
makers and the general public of the contribution of the Asian
Highway to regional economic and social progress. The ESCAP
secretariat has been providing information to highway
administrations, road developers, financing institutions, road users,
tourists, the private sector and the general public to increase
visibility and raise public awareness of the importance of the Asian
Highway. Some past activities have included:
(A) EVENTS: Several expert group meetings, seminars, a symposium and
workshops for participating member countries, subregional and
international organizations have been held to exchange ideas, share
experiences and consider policy options and best practices. These
activities generated a number of important suggestions for the
development of the Asian Highway. For example, the ESCAP-Japan
Symposium on the Asian Highway Development, held in Tokyo in 1996
ended with a strong recommendation to strengthen regional cooperation
through development, formalization and promotion of the Asian Highway.
(B) ASIAN HIGHWAY ROUTE MAP: A series of maps entitled "A Practical
Guide to Motorists - Asian Highway Route Map" were published between
1976 and 1988, sponsored by a tyre manufacturer. These publications
were reprinted several times and enjoyed wide recognition amongst
(C) ASIAN HIGHWAY DATABASE: An Asian Highway database, initiated in
1995, now encompasses details of the network within 31 countries.
Some basic information has been posted on the Asian Highway web page.
The database is currently being updated, with additional features
being added using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.
(D) ASIAN HIGHWAY WEB PAGE: The Asian Highway web page
( http://www.unescap.org/tctd/ah/index.htm ) contains some key
information on the Asian Highway and the database. Internet users
have increasingly visited it to access the database and download
Asian Highway-related publications. Among the most frequently visited
pages are those containing files related to the Highway, country
data, tourism prospects and the Asian Highway study on the
(E) ASIAN HIGHWAY BROCHURES: An Asian Highway brochure was published
in English and Japanese. Another brochure has been published on the
database as a useful handout for distribution to interested users in
the Asian Highway member countries.
(F) ASIAN HIGHWAY AUTO-VENTURE: From 1978 to 1998 the "Asian Highway
Auto-Venture", an auto-rally was jointly organized by the Automobile
Association of Singapore and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, under
ESCAP sponsorship. This event took place annually along the Asian
Highway Route Nos. 1 and 2 through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Participants included families and ranged from children to
grandparents, all of whom enjoyed the event and opportunity to
explore major tourism attractions along the routes.
A VISION OF THE FUTURE
The unanimous adoption of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the
Asian Highway Network by 32 member countries was a landmark event and
the Asian Highway project has entered into a new phase. It will
enhance the regional network by boosting the priority given by member
countries to its development in accordance with the uniform design
standards. More Asian Highway route signage will be installed to
guide international travellers.
The flow of international traffic is steadily increasing through the
Asian Highway network, and will grow further with improved
infrastructure, as in Europe. Ways to ensure the sustained growth in
cross-border flow of peoples and goods will continue to be discussed
in the Working Group on the Asian Highway. At present, the Asian
Highway network includes primarily trunk routes of international and
domestic importance, but in the future, it is envisaged that
secondary roads linking to the Asian Highway will become part of the
network, providing important additional links to domestic and
It is envisaged that a day will soon come when products from
Singapore, Shanghai or Bandar Abbas will be delivered to buyers in
Central Asia or tourists and adventurers may drive to Europe from
Tokyo or Bali. The benefits of this for the peoples of the ESCAP
region are immense and unparalleled.
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