Bangladesh: Better roads for Better Lives
After improvements were made to a local road, Swapna Akhter, a Community Woman in Kalmakanda, Netrokona, can take patients more conveniently to the nearby hospital. Similarly, Ibrahim Talukder, Chairman of a Union Parishad in Fatikchari, Chittagong, has found that the cost of getting to the local health complex has substantially reduced after the paving of a local road.
These stories demonstrate the intrinsic link between transport and human capital development. This connection is perhaps most obvious in rural areas, where improved mobility has transformed countless lives by unlocking economic opportunities and expanding access to essential services like healthcare or education.
The ongoing Second Rural Transport Improvement Project (RTIP-II) in Bangladesh is a case in point. We talked to several beneficiaries of the project—which supports road expansion and upgrading, and rural market development in 26 districts across the country, and the dredging of local waterways on a pilot basis—to understand how better connectivity had impacted their lives.
What are the immediate impacts of improving rural transport connectivity?
The most immediate impacts of improving a road from earth or gravel to a paved surface are generally a noticeable improvement in driving conditions, a significant reduction in journey time, and a reduction in vehicle operating costs. Patients that once reportedly paid between 500 and 700 Taka to reach health facilities in Chittagong district of Bangladesh now pay just 30 Taka.
The construction of new road sections and bridges can add critical new links to the network and result in substantially shorter routes between communities: A truck driver reports that one new bridge, supported by the project, cut 15 kilometers off his journey, saving him time and money.
There is also a significant improvement in reliability, as the paved surface generally provides all weather access that may have been lacking previously: A trip from Baraiyarhat to Abutaorah in Chittagong district used to take 5-6 hours on some occasions, but now reliably takes just 30 minutes due to the provision of a new link supported by the project.
How do these impacts transform the lives of rural residents?
Aside from immediate impacts such as time and cost savings, better road and waterways connectivity also brought much broader and significant benefits to rural communities in terms of accessibility, personal development, and economic growth:
- Schools have seen an increase in the number of students enrolling in a school, and a reduction in the number of drop-outs.
- Residents report that they can access health facilities faster, more easily, and inexpensively.
- A delivery driver who was previously unable to supply essential medicines to shops and hospitals in time due to poor road conditions can now complete the same deliveries in only 20 to 35 minutes.
- Many working adults we spoke with mentioned that the improved road connections enabled them to reach their jobs on time, and again with greater reliability.
- Local farmers can increase their production, as the dredging of the rural waterway has allowed them to resume irrigating their land. They can also sell the surplus at one of the community markets constructed under the project and receive a fair price for their goods. These new markets also have a number of spaces/stalls reserved for low-income and vulnerable women in the community.
Kunti Rabi Das is one of them. After her husband suddenly died in 2012, Kunti was struggling to put three square meals on the table for her family of three. A member of an ethnic minority living in a remote part of the Moulvibazar district, her job prospects were slim and she simply didn’t have enough to live on.
That was her predicament until a village representative told her about the possibility of working on road maintenance for one of the project’s Labor Contracting Societies. Kunti now cleans drains, fills pits, clears minor blockades, and plants trees on roadways near her home. Working six days a week, she now earns enough to support her family.
These are just a few examples, of course. But together, they paint a compelling picture about the transformative power of transport. For us, improving rural connectivity is never just about building a road, it’s about paving the way for better lives.