Life Before the World Bank: Creating ROMDAS

May 18, 2020


In March 2020 we had a reunion in Auckland of my old team who worked with me during the first 35 years of my career. It was a real blessing and honour for everyone to be together again and lots of lost memories were shared. It was suggested that I should document the history of ROMDAS over its inception until I joined the World Bank in 2003. So this is my attempt at telling the story of a small but very talented team who developed a great solution to collecting and managing data on roads, at the same time indulging our inquisitive natures and having fun. I used the Covid-19 lockdown for a walk down memory lane—warning: it’s a long post!


Nabin Pradhan, Paul Hunter, Chris Bennett and Zuwei Deng

The evolution of ROMDAS can best be summarized through the figures below. We went from a simple device connecting a single roughness meter to a hand held or personal computer, to a comprehensive integrated system collecting data on the full range of essential road attributes.


1990 – 95



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Road Safety on World Bank Financed Projects

August 7, 2019

Shortly after I joined the World Bank in 2003, I became part of a team working on road safety. It has been one of the highlights of my time at the Bank to have been able to address road safety, both on my projects and through supporting the Bank’s broader road safety agenda. Recently, I have helped lead the effort to prepare the guidance for how the Bank will expand and deepen its road safety efforts as we adopt road safety as a ‘safeguard’. This elevates road safety to be equivalent to other key development issues, such as environmental and social issues. This is a very long post which tries to summarize about a year’s worth of work by myself and the team!

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Addressing the risks from climate change in performance-based contracts

August 27, 2018

Output and performance based road contracts (OPRC) is a contracting modality that is increasingly being used to help manage roads. Unlike traditional contracts, where the owners define what is to be done, and oftentimes how to do it, OPRC contracts define the outcome that the owners want to achieve, and the contractor is responsible to meet those outcomes. Performance is measured against a series of key performance indicators (KPIs) or service levels.

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In the Pacific, climate change means expecting the unexpected …

August 29, 2017

I was reflecting on the saying that “ignorance is bliss” as our plane was landing in Tuvalu, a small island nation in the South Pacific. We had been advised that portions of the recent runway resealing was failing in a number of locations, but it was the video below—showing the runway ‘floating’ under the weight of someone walking on it—that was particularly disconcerting.  Runways are supposed to be solid!

Tuvalu has regularly been called the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to climate change. The country is comprised of three reef islands and six coral atolls.  With the maximum elevation of 3-4 m, and sea level rise of some 5 mm/year, it is already at a risk of a range of climate change challenges. Now we have a new one: runway failure from beneath caused by what appears to be a combination of very high (‘king’) tides and increased rainfall.

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The climate is changing… So the way we manage roads needs to change as well

May 15, 2017


Few things are more depressing than seeing the damage caused by cyclones on transport infrastructure. Especially when it is a causeway that was only formally opened less than one month before the storm. That is what I found in early 2014 when participating in the Tonga Cyclone Ian Post Disaster Needs Assessment. The cyclone was a typical example of the heavy toll that climate change is taking on transport infrastructure, particulimagearly in the most vulnerable countries.
Engineers are taught that water is the greatest enemy of transport infrastructure, and unfortunately climate change is leading to an increase in floods and storms, especially within the South-East Asia region.

For example, the figure below shows the number of floods and storms for some Asian countries between 2000 and 2008. The significant increase in the number of floods is self-evident.

Number of flood and storm events in select South-East Asian countries in 2000 vs. 2008

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Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project – The Finished Product

December 18, 2016

In 2010 I visited Kiribati to start the work preparing what was in 2011 to become the ‘Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project’. As I recounted in my original post, the road was completely failed and  was in need of major work.  In late 2014 the World Bank did a short story on the project, and now that the road is completed, they have produced an excellent video. I’m grateful to have played a small role in helping to improve the quality of infrastructure in Kiribati. This is what development is all about.

TrakDot: A Singularly Useful Device For Travellers

June 1, 2015

Air New Zealand as always excelled themselves. It is by far the best airline in the world. I was travelling from Washington D.C. to Fiji via San Francisco and Auckland. While in San Francisco I learned that my wife’s sister had died in Australia which meant that Fiji was off and I made arrangements for me to travel to Sydney instead. The problem was my bag which was checked in for Fiji. Air New Zealand arranged for it to be retagged manually to Auckland; and in Auckland they again retagged it for Sydney.   With so many opportunities for error I was not optimistic that my bag would make it. But as soon as I turned on my phone I got the message below that my bag was in Sydney. How? TrakDot.


TrakDot ( is a small device which runs off 2 x AA batteries. You put it in your bag and when it is in the vicinity of an airport it sends a message via e-mail and/or SMS to a list of contacts you provide.  I have my wife on the list so she knows that my bag has arrived—and so in theory so has the husband. For only some $60 and a small annual fee, it is great for imagepeace of mind. More than once I’ve arrived somewhere and got the message my bag was elsewhere and so I didn’t waste time needlessly hanging around the baggage claim area. One time our local airport rang to say my bag was there but my wife said I was on the way already since I knew the bag had arrived. She was surprised—and impressed.

So if you are a frequent traveller get a TrakDot—you won’t regret it. And also fly Air New Zealand whenever you can!

Tuvalu After Cyclone Pam–The Recovery

April 3, 2015

The World Bank does not usually get involved with recovery efforts immediately after a natural disaster such as Cyclone Pam. Our strengths are in the reconstruction phase. They differ insofar as the recovery phase focuses on the immediately needs after a disaster: food, water, health, basic shelter. The reconstruction phase is about building back—hopefully better—and helping life return to a semblance of normality. However, since I was on the ground immediately after the disaster, I had a front row seat on the recovery and it can best be described as graduate school on steroids. Both myself and my colleague Nora—who is planning for a career in post-disaster logistics—learned a lot and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be in Tuvalu at such a critical time.

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Tuvalu After Cyclone Pam

March 22, 2015

Cyclone Pam was a Category 5 storm whose 280 km/h winds caused massive devastation in Vanuatu. I departed Vanuatu a few days before the storm for Tonga—after having completed preparation of an emergency project to address issues at Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila—where I was working on a project rebuilding Ha’apai after last year’s Cyclone Ian. From there I was travelling to Tuvalu which, since being outside of the ‘cyclone belt’ I did not expect to be affected much by the storm. My Tuvaluan friends say that cyclones are created in the waters of Tuvalu 11067509_929602800405989_4644459534080131086_nbut are a gift to their neighbours. This time they were unfortunately wrong. So my planned mission to review the aviation project turned into a post-disaster ‘Damage and Loss Assessment’ (DALA) mission which would help identify potential support for the World Bank after the disaster.

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Supporting Charities

February 25, 2015

Working in developing countries one has an opportunity to see the effects—or lack thereof—of charities working in the development sector. For years I have been a strong supporter of Kiva which is a micro-finance site where we can identify people in different countries and provide support to them through a micro-loan. Of the 31 loans I’ve given, only one has not been repaid which is much better than I had anticipated. I use Kiva to find people in the countries I’m working in and support them, and my wife and I also don’t give gifts for birthdays etc. but Kiva vouchers.


Another initiative I support is ‘Give Well’. I came across them through a program where professional poker players give 2% of their salary to the top charities identified by GiveWell.


The philosophy behind GiveWell is that there are three qualities which really make a charity effective:

  • Serving the Global Poor: Supporting developing countries
  • Focused on Evidence Based Interventions: Programs which are evidenced based for making an impact.
  • Thoroughly Vetted and Highly Transparent: There needs to be open public discussion of their track record, both good and bad.

The evidenced based criterion is controversial. I remember listening to an interview of a large NGO providing cows to farmers in Africa, with expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, and they had not done a single proper analysis on the poverty impact of their efforts.

The GiveWell site has a database where they give an assessment of a range of charities. What is telling are the ones which declined to participate in the review—one of which was Helen Keller International which I raised funds for as a child. It’s also interesting how many don’t meet the above three criteria—including several that I have (and continue) to support.

They do recommend four top charities for support:

  • Against Malaria Foundation
  • GiveDirectly
  • Schistosemaiasis Control Initiative
  • Deworm the World Initiative

When you read about their efforts and they way they operate it is clear that they are making a real impact. So I’ve used GiveWell to support them. After all, if poker players can do this so can I!