The World Bank has approved $500 million to help Bangladesh improve road connectivity along the Jashore-Jhenaidah corridor covering four western districts.
The Western Economic Corridor and Regional Enhancement (WeCARE) Phase I project is the first of a multi-phased $1.4 billion World Bank programme to upgrade the existing 110-kilometre two-lane highway -- Bhomra-Satkhira-Navaron and Jashore-Jhenaidah, to a safer and climate-resilient four-lane highway in western Bangladesh.
It will support the government's plan of developing a 260km economic corridor in the western part and benefit over 20 million people, said a press release of the World Bank issued yesterday.
The credit from the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA), which provides concessional financing, has a 34-year term, including a four-year grace period. With this financing, the World Bank's total commitment in the current financial year (FY19-20) stands at $2.27 billion, the release said.
The first phase of the programme will upgrade 48km of the N7 highway between Jashore and Jhenaidah and improve about 600km connecting rural roads and 32 rural markets/growth centres to stimulate the local economy.
To improve road safety, the highway will have additional lanes for slow-moving vehicles and a median safety barrier to separate oncoming traffic.
"The western region of Bangladesh is endowed with many agricultural and natural produce and holds great potential of becoming a gateway for regional and international trade," said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
"This project will unlock the region's potential by stimulating the economy of districts, linking farms to markets, connecting Dhaka with the western region as well as with neighbouring countries, thus enhancing trade, transit and logistics along the corridor," Mercy Tembon said.
To help the country realise the 'Digital Bangladesh' vision, the project will install fiber optic cables along the highway to provide reliable and affordable internet access, which will be critical for emergency responses and business continuities in crises similar to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the poorest hard with the loss of jobs and income. To help them recover from the shock, the project will support immediate social protection and livelihoods to the vulnerable rural people by engaging them in labor-intensive civil works. Even in the post Covid period, the project will create jobs for the local communities through civil works for the national highway and connecting rural roads and markets," said Rajesh Rohatgi, World Bank Senior Transport Specialist and Project Task Team Leader.
"It will also support the country's two key transport agencies -- Roads and Highway Division and Local Government Engineering Department -- to enhance emergency preparedness for any future pandemic or crisis," he said.
The project will also enhance agriculture supply chain efficiency in the western region by ensuring that produce are transported to markets in less time and lower cost. For example, in Khulna Division, where about 57 percent of the population's income is generated from agricultural production, the project will improve storage facilities along the corridor that will help farmers reduce waste, increase sales and earn more.