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Bangladesh: Improving Transport Lifelines

October 14, 2016

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Challenges – Weak arteries for quality of life and commercial vitality

Bangladesh’s network of 3,900 kilometers of inland waterways are the only mode of transport for 12 percent of country’s rural communities. Carrying about 194 million tons of cargo and roughly 25 percent of all of Bangladesh’s passenger traffic each year, inland waterway transport is less expensive for the poor and essential for trade among the country’s biggest cites and with neighboring India and Bhutan. Moreover, better inland waterways can help Bangladesh reduce road traffic and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Nonetheless, Bangladesh’s transportation sector receives insufficient funding. Important navigation channels suffer from poor maintenance, and they lack adequate depth for navigation and safety infrastructure. Most river port facilities for cargo and passengers are dilapidated with unsafe conditions and not hospitable to women and vulnerable populations. 

Bangladesh’s rural road network is essential for improving the health, education, and the livelihoods of about 66 percent of the county’s people. Yet the rural roads across the country badly need regular repair and rehabilitation. Poor quality, construction, and carrying capacity of part of the secondary and tertiary road network is common, and large portions of roads are impassable during the rainy season. Yet, the national maintenance budget for rural roads is increasingly in deficit. Road repair is often reactive and, therefore, more expensive over the long run.

Urban transportation is also important to the quality of life and commercial vitality of Bangladesh’s cities. But urban traffic congestion is a major feature of urban life in Bangladesh due to the scarce road space (7.5 percent of total land area – far less than many other major metro areas around the world).[1]

Also, weak public mass transport, ineffective traffic control, the mix of motorized and non-motorized vehicles, poor road manners, illegal parking, and the presence of hawkers contribute to excessive traffic congestion. Those factors increase travel time and economic loss, and they have detrimental consequences for public health and the environment. The number of vehicles on city roads in Bangladesh increased 16 times between 2001 and 2013, while motorized public transport accounts for only 23 percent of trips. Seven ministries and 13 agencies are responsible for various aspects of Dhaka’s urban transport, but there is little constructive coordination among them.

[1] Much less than 11 percent in Bangkok, 16 percent in Tokyo and 20 and 30 percent in U.S. cities.


" The roads are narrow, busy and congested. If I miss the shipment the order gets cancelled and I have to bear the cost. "

A Ready Made Garment (RMG) exporter

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Inland waterway transport is less expensive for the poor and essential for trade among the country’s biggest cites and with neighboring India and Bhutan

Photo Credit: World Bank

Solutions – Stronger maintenance and safety, greater capacity

In response to the multiple challenges facing Bangladesh’s transport sector, the World Bank has committed $360 million in June 2016 to the Bangladesh Regional Waterway Transport Project 1, which will help improve the navigability and safety of 900 kilometers of inland waterways on the heavily-trafficked Chittagong-Dhaka-Ashuganj river routes. The project supports the long-term maintenance of navigation channels. It also improves navigation safety through channel maintenance, improvement, and development of key river ports with female-friendly facilities.

The Bank has also committed $302 million through the Rural Transport Improvement Project to build 800 kilometers of new roads and maintain more than 4,000 kilometers of existing roads in 26 districts. The project also focuses on transport safety and flood damage response.

The Bank-funded Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (or CASE) project is helping to improve air quality and safe mobility in Dhaka through demonstration initiatives for those who walk and use public transport. With Bank funding of $62 million, CASE has contributed to pedestrian infrastructure improvement, studies for bus restructuring and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and capacity strengthening for organizations such as the South-South Knowledge Exchange on traffic signals with China and India.


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Under the Rural Transport Improvement Project, 3,060 kilometers out of 5,248 kilometers of tertiary roads have been newly built or rehabilitated by the Government since 2012 to promote rural connectivity. 

Photo Credit: World Bank

Results – A stronger transportation lifeline

By 2024, the Bangladesh Regional Waterway Transport Project aims to increase the availability of navigation aids on the Project’s waterways from 30 percent to 95 percent, improving safety. It will also reduce cargo vessel travel time on the Dhaka-Chittagong Corridor from 40 hours to 30 hours.

Under the Rural Transport Improvement Project, 3,060 kilometers out of 5,248 kilometers of tertiary roads have been newly built or rehabilitated by the Government since 2012 to promote rural connectivity. This will connect rural people – who make up 66 percent of Bangladesh’s population – to education and health services and to livelihood opportunities.

Through CASE, Dhaka now has 65 kilometers of new sidewalks with drainage, 21 foot-over-bridges, and 39 improved intersections. The project is also initiating the operation of traffic signals at 91 intersections.

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