From extending aid to Sri Lanka to building mega projects, Bangladesh is transforming its image to emerge as a South Asian miracle, writes Pathik Hasan for South Asia Monitor
Bangladesh's ability to spend as well as repay foreign loans has increased. It is also joining the middle income countries. Transforming the country’s economic and infrastructure picture are its top mega projects including Padma Bridge, Dhaka Metro Rail, Dhaka-Chittagong Elevated Expressway as well as Dhaka-Chittagong Express Railway.
Construction work of Metro Rail, Karnaphuli Tunnel, Bay Terminal, Ruppur Nuclear Power Station, Dhaka Elevated Expressway, Bus Rapid Transit and the Third Terminal of the airport is going ahead despite the shadow of the Corona epidemic.
The other projects are Dhaka-Sylhet 4-Lane Highway, Dhaka-Cox’s Bazar Railway Link, Paira Deep Sea Port and 4-Lane Expansion of Major Highways in Bangladesh.
And Bangladesh, with its foreign exchange reserves, is even set to lend $200 million to cash-hit Sri Lanka. A portion of this will be spent on infrastructure construction. All this is definitely a matter of pride for Bangladesh. At one time Dhaka only borrowed from foreign companies or countries.
Projects to transform Bangladesh
The Bangladeshi economy is showing its potential. After managing the Covid-19 first wave, Dhaka is handling the subsequent waves. Government officials and experts say that if these mega projects can be implemented amid the health crisis, Bangladesh's status will rise globally.
The Awami League’s victory in the ninth parliamentary elections led to massive development activities across the country. As the government has remained unchanged, these activities have gained more momentum, enveloping important sectors such as roads, infrastructure, power and energy. There have been incredible success in the power and energy sector after overcoming long standing obstacles.
At the start of the second term, the government started work on about a dozen large projects on priority in communication, power and energy in particular with a view to creating employment and achieving rapid economic growth. Even as per capita income and GDP grew, the pandemic hit Bangladesh too. Although the pace of work of the mega projects slowed down, they continued by observing strict health regulations.
Padma Bridge to open on time
Significant progress has been made in the much-discussed Padma Bridge and Metrorail. As of June, the overall progress of Metrorail Line-6 has been 67.63 percent. The progress of the Padma Bridge project has been more than 93 percent. It is hoped that the Padma Bridge – being built with indigenous resources and which will link the country’s southwest with the northern and eastern regions -- will open to traffic within the stipulated June 2022.
The construction of Bangladesh's first tunnel under the Karnaphuli river has not stopped. Ditto for the Karnafuli Tunnel although it got hit by labour crisis and disruption in supply of construction materials during the Covid-19 period. The overall work progress has been 70 percent.
Bangladeshi media outlets says after the second wave of the coronavirus, construction materials are not arriving on time. Anyone involved in the projects and affected by Covid-19 cannot resume work earlier than one month due to strict quarantine. All this has slowed down the pace of work slightly.
The overall progress of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is about 35 percent till September. The Planning Commission has approved its extension till June 2022. Work on Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway has also been delayed.
When these mega projects get completed, Bangladesh will begin to enjoy a better image internationally. Many economists think this will give the country a unique dignity.
After a long wait, the proposed Bangabandhu Railway Bridge is finally seeing the light of day. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will lay the foundation stone. When the project is implemented, the pressure on the Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna river will be reduced.
At the same time, transportation of goods from northern Bengal in neighbouring India will become easier. Reducing the cost of transporting goods will bring positive changes in the economic situation and social life. The government thinks it will make a significant contribution to the overall economy.
The average progress of the nine projects till December is 56.31 percent. When implemented, they will add about 2 percent growth to the economy.
Bangladesh, whose economic growth has caught worldwide attention, has been forecasted to sustain a growth of over 7 percent in the next five years and have a USD 500 billion economy by 2026.
Naturally, Bangladesh's finance ministry has termed all these projects as "transformational projects". By 2025, Bangladesh should start reaping their benefits. These are helping Bangladesh transform its economy. The country is poised to be a South Asian economic miracle.
(The writer is a Bangladesh-based NGO activist and researcher-writer on international relations. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)