On our way to Netrokona, we rode in a bus for nine hours. The bus, which was the size of a greyhound bus and had a 1970s cosmic flannel ceiling and maroon curtains over the windows, was relatively comfortable. After taking two pills of Dramamine, Kendra and I were sedated enough to carelessly look out the window or sleep as our bus passed similarly large buses at around 60 miles per hour, on a two lane road with oncoming traffic.
After driving for four hours, the Dramamine began to wear off, as expected. The bus ride was scheduled for just under five hours, and we wanted to be cognitive upon arrival. Around this time our translator, Titov, looked at us and said “there is a jam up ahead, no doubt about it”. I pictured a traffic jam in Boise, my hometown, and expected to drive slowly for 15 minutes before resuming our original pace. This was not a Boise jam.
The “jam” lasted for over four hours! We heard rumors that it was a result of a car crash involving a bus. This sort of traffic jam is common on the highways of Bangladesh. Titov explained that jams rarely last less than a couple of hours. This wasn’t surprising for us to imagine as we objectively evaluated the driving conditions.
The highway that we drove on was comparable in size and design to the average road in a suburb of Boise. It was barely wide enough for two buses to pass side by side, with a rickshaw and a motorcycle in either shoulder. (I have seen this both in the bus, and on a motorcycle, with a bus racing two feet from my inside knee.) The road had no speed limit, no road lines, and an occasional speed bump. The drivers, like the roads, have no rules. They will take any opportunity to pass fellow drivers as long as collision is not guaranteed.
The highways are not capable of safely supporting the buses, vans, cars, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws and auto-rickshaws that use them daily. For this reason, along with unsystematic driving patterns, car crashes that should create 30-minute delays will create jams that last for hours.
Improper infrastructure does more than just inconvenience travelers. One of the previously most underdeveloped portions of Bangladesh was a region called Dhunat. This region was only accessible through a collection of disorganized highways before a three-mile bridge was built across one of the widest rivers in Bangladesh. This government project ultimately reduced the travel time between Dhaka and Dhunat from 12 hours to 4 hours. Since the bridge’s construction, Dhunat has seen incredible improvement in human wellbeing. The poor that live in Dhunat were previously unable to obtain the health treatment and poverty aid that could help lift them out of poverty. Before the bridge was constructed, over 34% of the population lived on less than one meal a day; however, now only 5% of the population now lives on less than one meal a day.
The highways and other infrastructure have seen marked improvement over the last few decades. Every village we have visited is woven with paved roads, where they once had dirt roads. Programs throughout Bangladesh, both private and public, hire local employees to pave the roads with bricks and earthen materials. Paved roads allow villages to more easily access health care and markets in other areas of Bangladesh. The government has also invested in creating and maintaining bridges throughout Bangladesh. Bangladesh has seen drastic improvements in the lives of people living around areas with rapidly improving infrastructure. Thankfully, it is committed towards improving its infrastructure throughout the country. Maybe we will no longer have to take two Dramamine to enjoy a cross-country journey.
- Ryan Gibson