Roads, Development and Deforestation: a review
Social and economic development has historically been associated with spatial expansion of connection networks. A quick look at any detailed topographic map reveals that more developed countries have denser road and railroad network than less developed ones and that even within a country we are usually confident in identifying the most developed and urbanized regions by the higher density of roads connections. Indeed, as soon as an economy expands it pushes for the development of a rational transportation network, which makes economic specialization and trade more profitable, setting up a virtuous circle between economic and infrastructure development.
Despite this, historical cases indicate that when rural roads are placed in forested areas, it speeds up deforestation, endangering biodiversity and the stability of our planet’s climate. This suggests that road construction or rehabilitation poses a trade-off between economic development and environmental damage.
This paper tries to summarize the empirical evidence related to these two impacts of road extension. We do not, however, claim our attempt to be exhaustive given the wide range of issues involved. To keep the size of the work manageable we deliberately reduced the scope of this review, focusing only on developing countries in the tropical region. Most deforestation is concentrated in this region and a large portion of developing countries which probably would benefit the most from transport networks expansion, lay within the tropics. The next section will briefly review the theoretical framework of the impact of roads on rural economics, and some of the issues related to the empirical approach generally adopted in the literature. Sections 3 and 4, the core of the paper, will present the results of our review on the impact of roads on development and deforestation, respectively. Section 5 concludes.