Inefficiencies along Africa’s all-important road transport routes are one of the causes of health risks such as the spread of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis.
By Stef Terblanche
Inefficiencies along Africa’s all-important road transport routes, with downtime at border crossings often accounting for more than 50% of journey duration, are one of the major root causes of health risks such as the spread of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. A major private sector initiative, however, has been launched recently to help alleviate the negative impact of these health hazards on workers in the transport sector and the communities with whom they come into contact; while there remains much to be done by governments throughout the continent.
A transport sector report on HIV-prevention needs of migrants and mobile populations in southern Africa, released recently by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), highlights the risks associated with long delays at border crossings.
The report, prepared by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), reveals by way of example that “the journey from Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Johannesburg… takes on average 15-20 days for general cargo, with 10-15 days downtime at the border crossings.”
The report states that in southern Africa, much of the freight which moves between north and south, between east and west, is by road because it is a more flexible mode, more reliable and generally cheaper per tonne/kilometre.
“However, due to various infrastructural challenges and/or delays experienced at border crossings, the work of transporting goods… is neither an easy nor a fast one. Thus many truck stops or ‘hot spots’ have sprung up along the routes and borders to cater for long-distance truck drivers and others travelling along transport corridors.”
One of the results of this situation highlighted by the report is that “with limited facilities at these ‘hot spots’, truck drivers often look for women who can offer them comfort, food and a place to wash.”
Thousands of truck drivers in Africa, however, now have a new navigation tool to help them easily find healthcare centres along the subcontinent’s major transport corridors. In a unique partnership between Shell, Maplecroft and North Star Alliance, four maps have been published – showing the exact locations of more than 160 roadside wellness centres in West, East and southern Africa. All the maps are in English, with the West African map also available in French.
Some of the services provided by the wellness centres include sexual health education and counselling, HIV/Aids testing, blood pressure testing, TB screening, treatment of minor infections and wounds, and the distribution of free condoms.
“For the first time, truckers can see where they can access health services along major trucking corridors and transport hubs on the subcontinent,” says Paul Matthew, director: Africa for North Star Alliance. “Our ultimate goal is to get these maps into the hands of all truck drivers in Africa.”
The maps, produced by Maplecroft, are funded by Shell. “This joint initiative provides truck drivers with the latest information on where to find roadside wellness centres on the subcontinent,” says George Wandera, downstream road safety co-ordinator: Africa.
Shell is co-ordinating distribution of the maps to its road transport managers in Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The maps will be distributed also through the national road transport associations of these countries, and to Shell’s contracted haulier partners, as well as Shell Driving Schools and Shell depots.
North Star Alliance is distributing the maps also to drivers who visit their roadside wellness centres, and to other roadside clinic networks in sub-Saharan Africa. Occasionally, drivers have referred their spouses to nearby clinics.
Alyson Warhurst, chief executive officer of Maplecroft, said the company became involved in the project after conducting research on the link between the spread of HIV/Aids and truck drivers in Africa. “Drivers were getting ill with no effective support. Our experience in issue mapping allowed us to pinpoint the best locations for the wellness centres.”
North Star Alliance is a multinational, public-private partnership originally co-founded in 2006 by courier company TNT and the United Nations World Food Programme. Besides other similar facilities, North Star Alliance has established 12 data-linked roadside health clinics at major truck stops and border crossings in Africa. The clinics are housed in specially converted and equipped shipping containers.
Although this private sector initiative makes an important contribution to alleviate some of the effects of the health risks associated with the road transport sector in Africa, it is clear from the IOM report that much still needs to be done – particularly at the level of government – to deal with these health problems on a proper holistic basis.
The report, which mainly concentrates on the Southern African Development Community (SADC), among others recommends that more research should be conducted on the “various determinants of HIV in the transport sector.”
It further recommends that specific effort should be made by national authorities and employers to reach families of truck drivers in the places of origin. “Such efforts should also take into consideration issues related to stigma and discrimination.”
Fleet management in Africa – not for the faint-hearted
As more South African companies explore and expand into Africa, the need for a comprehensive fleet risk assessment has almost become mandatory.While one can be adequately covered in South Africa, the moment a loaded truck crosses a border different insurance risks come into play.
Beyond SA borders, political risk becomes a major consideration. In some African countries, civil war is a constant threat while in others, invasion or the threat of invasion makes headlines every day. Transporters have evolved to managing risk actively in response to the dynamic nature and rapid changes that happen in the emerging markets.
Brendan Horan, General Manager Sales and Marketing for MiX Telematics, says that trading in the global village has a very different set of dynamics to those governing the unique African village and businesses have had to adjust to the demands that an unstable and unpredictable environment presents.
The improvement in cell phone network coverage in Africa and subsequent roll out of GPRS and GSM has created a demand for higher-end fleet management.
“Customers want to have access to live-tracking facilities where they are able to monitor their vehicles on a real-time basis.
Where there is no cellular coverage, MiX Telematics makes use of satellite communication to track vehicles. The satellite solution is more expensive so GPS positioning communicated via GPRS is first prize. Our technology makes use of least cost routing to optimise the cost of satellite communication and GPRS,” says Horan. Horan says as living standards improve however, the need to advance technologically grows too and since fixed-lines are so limited many Africans have laptops and 3G access which has facilitated the growth in fleet management.
MiX Telematics offers fleet manager’s two unique feature-rich products to not only reduce fleet costs but to track and trace your fleet anywhere in the world.
The FM Communicator has been specially designed for high-end fleet management. It is a full-package solution starting with a driver identification feature and including driver performance monitoring, advanced movement management and vehicle utilisation features. “All the functions of this product are essential for advanced and accurate fleet management.
Fleet managers want to know firstly who is driving the vehicle, then how to manage driving performance based on specified criteria and have the ability to track and monitor vehicle movement. All these bases are covered. It is interesting to note that owners can save significantly on the cost of maintaining a vehicle by simply monitoring speed, revs, braking, acceleration and excessive idling. Being able to monitor these aspects and finding ways to save costs is essential in today’s economic climate,” said Horan.
The FM Tracer is scaled down in terms of its features and is ideal for entry level fleet management or smaller fleets when cost to function is crucial. It offers limited but essential features including tracking and utilisation and is still an excellent solution for managing your fleet with real time or historical vehicle and driver information from any Internet-enabled computer anywhere in the world.
Data for both systems is hosted at Mix Telematics’ hosting centre in Cape Town site, including all data pertaining to Africa.
Horan says MiX Telematics offers a stand-alone or home-based solution but experience has proved that customers in emerging countries cannot source the skills to do the administration themselves so are more likely to do the fleet management side and leave the data hosting and delivery capabilities to the MiX Telematics team.
Commenting on the success of the product to date, Horan says the secret to effective fleet management is heavily reliant on the usage of the information delivered. “At MiX Telematics the method of service delivery is pro-active and the product is completely transparent, there are no hidden costs. Other companies may offer a perceived lower introductory cost but what the customer gets in the end is far more expensive. We take the no-nonsense, single-fee approach,” he says. Moving forward Horan says he believes the current increase in cargo versus vehicle theft is expected to continue. “Fuel theft is also a major challenge in the industry. There is an understanding that it is far more lucrative to hijack trucks than cars which has led to an increase in this type of crime. We are working on solutions to combat this growing trend,” he says.
Last years economic downturn resulted in a noticeable drop in the activity of line haulage and transportation and a reduction in fleet sizes or a stagnation fleet growth. He anticipates this trend will stabilise but the impact of the recession is still being felt. “However, as long as there is a poor rail infrastructure in SA and parts of Africa there will always be a need for trucks and there will always be a need to protect them,” he concludes.
Transnet’s limited capacity to deliver, particularly with regard to ports, is not having a positive impact
Transport and logistics companies continue to suffer heavy traffic congestion and backlogs due to Transnet’s capacity restraints at its container terminals. This has resulted increasingly in freight traffic being diverted from South African ports to the highly competitive Port of Maputo.
However, Transnet has been hard at work upgrading its facilities to meet demand and improve efficiency, and more innovative initiatives are in the pipeline.
But industry leaders, from Sturrock Shipping managing director Andrew Sturrock to Road Freight Association (RFA) Technical and Operations manager Gavin Kelly, agree that South African ports have been losing market share to Maputo.
Operators in the road transport and logistics chain – which moves 80% of all freight in South Africa – point out that while trucks can be stuck in queues for 12 hours or even more in ports such as Durban, the turnaround time in Maputo is much quicker and without any holdups.
The Port of Maputo is managed privately by Mozambique International Port Services (MIPS), and owned jointly by South African company Grindrod, Dubai Ports World and the Mozambican government. The container terminal currently has excess capacity and is expected to more than double its freight volumes by 2010 to 91 000 20-metre equivalent units (TEUs) a year, up from the 44 000 units handled in 2005. Conservative estimates by MIPS project volumes in excess of 121 000 TEUs annually by 2013.
The efficient management of the port, the upgraded facilities, the reduction in bureaucratic red tape and the fact that there is no traffic congestion and delays, backed up by the improved road and rail infrastructure and services of the Maputo Corridor project that offers the shortest route to the sea from Gauteng, is proving to be an attractive lure for operators from particularly Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Swaziland.
The Port of Maputo has shown steady growth since MIPS was awarded a lease and management agreement in 1996. Since then, large volumes of citrus, automobile and coal exports have exited through this port as well as general containerised cargo. The port boasts modern car, container, coal and bulk-liquid terminals.
In July last year, Antonio Almeida Matos, co-chairperson of the Maputo Corridor Logistics Initiative (MCLI), said the port was moving close to eight million tonnes of cargo a year and hoped to increase this to 40 million tonnes a year within the next few decades. Upgrading projects to the value of US$300m to handle the anticipated increased traffic are already in the pipeline.
One problem, though, is the fact that trucks offloading in the port mostly return empty to South Africa. Therefore, attention will now be focused on turning it also into a major port for imports to South Africa.
That South African ports are experiencing serious capacity restraints at their container terminals, particularly in Durban, has been acknowledged boldly by Tau Morwe, acting chief executive of Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), a division of state-owned Transnet. According to him, Transnet would have to increase its capacity both in respect of its container terminals and its rail capacity, while not taking away business from the road freight industry.
However, Transnet, which operates 15 terminals at six ports, has already done much to alleviate the problem. By its last financial year-end, capital investments had increased by 59.1% to R3.1 billion, resulting in significant progress being made with an efficiency drive, for example, resulting in average moves per gross crane hour at the Durban container terminals improving by up to 26%.
Among the other projects undertaken by Transnet is the construction of the new container terminal at Pier 1 in the Port of Durban and the R3.9-billion widening and deepening of the harbour entrance channel that will enable the port to handle the larger new generation ships as well as improve the safety standards to match international norms; the R4.2-billion doubling of the Cape Town Container Terminal’s current capacity of 700 000 TEUs; the new deepwater Port of Ngqura in the Eastern Cape going operational with its 800 000 TEUs capacity container terminal that has state-of-the-art handling equipment; improved productivity at Richards Bay Dry Bulk Terminal, following the re-engineering and refurbishment of equipment; vastly improved productivity at Saldanha Iron Ore Terminal through the doubling of loading operations; and increasing maintenance at terminals by 78%.
However, TPT has also been facing severe challenges due to the recession with volumes – including in the container sector – decreasing after five years of consistent growth.
In June last year, Morwe told delegates at the South African Association of Freight Forwarders conference in Gauteng that it was critical for Transnet to start investing in infrastructure and port capacity.
He said the lack of investment over the previous 20 years was causing significant congestion at terminals such as in Durban, which handles two-thirds of the country’s container traffic.
Work already has been completed to improve the efficiency of waterside operations at the Durban terminal, while work is under way to improve landside efficiency.
According to transport operators, it is the latter where the major problems are being experienced, resulting in severe congestion causing hundreds of trucks to line up in queues of up to 5km every day with turnaround times of around 12 hours.
Morwe also believes the lack of technology at port terminals and in the trucking industry added to the problems.
From Transnet’s side, attempts have been made to upgrade technology.
For example, it has installed automated gates at Durban’s Pier 1, allowing trucks to move through without stopping.
Another system, PierPASS, has been imported from the United States to enable trucks to use the terminal facilities 24 hours a day, but container depots will have to be convinced to remain open 24 hours a day, too, to make the system work.
And a parking facility called A-Check is being installed to help streamline co-ordination between submission of documents and the loading or offloading of goods.
Finally, a number of other projects also have been undertaken or are in the pipeline to help ease the situation at the Durban container terminals, among these improvement of access roads by the municipality, a new rail link, and possibly converting Durban’s existing airport into a dugout container terminal.
Morwe added that Transnet plans to invest some R9bn in its ports over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the new Ngqura container terminal – recently used for the first time – could help ease some of the congestion at other facilities. The facility, which can accommodate the new generation of ultra-mega and post-Panamax ships with capacities ranging from 6 000 to 10 000 TEUs, is said to have the potential to become South Africa’s major container shipping port and a major container hub for all of Africa south of the equator.