NAIROBI, March 27 (Reuters) - The World Bank said on Thursday it had approved a $203.5 million loan to Kenya to fund its transport sector, part of which will help finance reconstruction at the country’s main airport, a major regional air hub that was damaged by fire last year.
In August, a fire destroyed sections of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, forcing the suspension of international passenger flights and blocking a vital thoroughfare for travel to and from east Africa.
Airlines resumed normal flights within days of the blaze, but the extensive fire damage forced the government to set up a temporary passenger terminal and to promise that it would accelerate construction on a new terminal.
Before the fire, the airport, built in the 1970s to handle 2.5 million passengers annually, was struggling to handle more than 6 million people a year. Latest passenger figures were not available.
“The additional financing will ... also improve the preparedness of the Kenya Airports Authority to respond to disasters such last year’s fire emergency,” Diarietou Gaye, the World Bank’s director for Kenya, said in a statement.
Fire fighters were criticised for being too slow and inadequate to respond, and the authorities were embarrassed by images of soldiers equipped only with buckets of water to fight the big blaze.
The World Bank said some of the money would also be used to complete the expansion of two key road networks that connect Kenya, east Africa’s biggest economy, to neighbouring countries.
“It will also enable us to complete ongoing contracts for the upgrading of the two major trade and transport corridors to facilitate regional trade and integration,” Gaye said.
A motorway known as the Northern Corridor runs from Mombasa through Nairobi to the Kenya-Uganda border, while the Western Corridor, runs from the Kenyan border with Tanzania and goes to Kisumu, Eldoret and Kitale to the South Sudan border.
Most of the cargo arriving in Mombasa is ferried to its final destination by road, usually by lorry, ending up in Uganda or Congo, or going to Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Somalia. (Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by James Macharia and Raissa Kasolowsky)