Road Networks

Low-income countries account for only 3% of global road networks – a constraint for economic growth

The IRF World Road Statistics (WRS) includes up-to-date information on the road and transport sector for over 200 countries and covers nine important road topics, one of which is road networks. An analysis of the road network data reveals that low income countries account for just 3% of global road networks. With such a small percentage of road networks, low income countries have limited economic growth potential.

A reliable road network is vital to any country, and is especially important for low income countries, because a strong road network can lead to massive economic development benefits. Roads help economies grow by linking markets to one another and allowing businesses to transport their goods to other parts of the country or even the globe. Connecting people by reducing the distance between markets, services, people, and knowledge is what economic growth is all about and road networks can do just that.

Available data provided by the IRF WRS 2018 includes the total length of road networks (in km.) for each country. This total is broken down into smaller subsections that include:motorways, highways (main or national), secondary (or regional), and other roads. The IRF WRS also categorizes countries by geographic region and income group. The analysis of the road network data relating to a countries income group highlights a stark contrast in road network percentages:

  • High income countries account for 43% of global road networks while low income countries account for only 3% of them.

The pie chart below shows the total road network distribution by income group for the latest year of available data.

Source: IRF WRS 2018, latest year of available data for countries

The highest income group has the largest percentage of road networks followed by the upper middle income group, the lower middle income group and finally the low income group with the lowest percentage. The lack of funding and resources for new road networks combined with the absence of maintenance for roads that do exist in low income countries have led to infrastructure deficits and little economic growth. These deficits are partially responsible for preventing low income countries from moving into higher income groups.

It is also important to look at the road network distribution by geographic region because the geographic regions of the world that are underdeveloped are usually those of low incomes. The pie chart below shows the total road network distribution by geographic regions of the world.

Source: IRF WRS 2018, latest year of available data for countries

The key statistic to take away from this chart is Sub-Saharan Africa‘s low percentage of road networks; it’s just 6% in stark comparison to representing 17% of global land mass. Poor roads and infrastructure in this region make delivering goods and services a difficult task for businesses and individuals. According to available data, annual public spending on infrastructure was only 2 percent of GDP in 2009–15. Sub-Saharan Africa needs to invest billions of US dollars into its infrastructure. Until Sub-Saharan Africa is able to fund significantly higher road infrastructure construction and maintenance, the isolation caused by lack of well-developed and well-maintained road networks will continue to pose a key constraint to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The new IRF WRS 2018 encompass updated data of over 200 countries: Country Profile, Road Networks, Road Traffic, Multimodal Traffic Comparisons, Vehicles in Use, Road Accidents, Vehicles Industry (Production, Imports, Exports and First Registrations), Road Expenditures & Revenues, and Fuel Energy Prices.

If you are interested in more detailed information regarding key statistical indicators for the road and transport sector, whether for a specific country or worldwide, we invite you to or contact us directly by phone +41 22 306 0260 or email