Source: Asia Development Bank
Taslima Akter lives in a community near one of the camps. On weekdays, she and her 10-yearold brother and 8-year-old sister must walk 2.5 kilometers each way to and from Folia Para Primary School. When the weather is good, it takes 30–40 minutes. When the monsoon comes, it is a long, dirty, dangerous journey.
Roads that turn into muddy traffic-clogged quagmires in the rains are a burden on camp dwellers and host communities alike. Accidents increase, school desks empty, small businesses and livelihoods suffer, and the overall sense of well-being of the resident and displaced populations dips substantially until the monsoon ends.
“We have to wade through sections of deep mud,” says Taslima, 13. “Our clothes are always a mess.”
She also fears for herself and her younger siblings. “There are so many vehicles and we have to hug the side of the road. All three of us know we could get hit and injured.”
That fear keeps many students away from school, she says, and records show that attendance at local schools has dropped as the traffic and road conditions have worsened.
Taslima expects this trend to reverse once the project’s ADF-funded road upgrades are completed. The works include upgrading 30 kilometers of internal camp roads and 30 kilometers of rural feeder roads, which will make transport between food storage and distribution centers, field hospitals, primary schools, and the cyclone shelters quicker and more efficient; and resurfacing the 50-kilometer road that serves as the camps’ main supply route.
The road Taslima and her younger brother and sister take to class each day is among those slated for improvement. “Once they fix the road and widen it,” she says, “I think many of my friends will come back to school because it will be easier and safer.”
Small businesses in the host communities and the camps themselves are also enmired by the awful road conditions during monsoon season. Deliveries of food and other crucial supplies often take double or triple the usual time to arrive when the main road is muddy and washed out, according to restaurant owner Jahir Ahmed, who set up his café near a camp in Ukhia Subdistrict about 15 months ago. Transport costs also rise. Fish and vegetables are damaged or go bad due to delays.
“We serve up to 300 people a day now,” says Jahir, 45, “but we hope to make that more than 1,000 after the road is improved. It helps that transport costs will drop, which means we can offer lower prices.”
Md Shahjahan, who sells jackfruits, oranges, and other seasonal fruits at Mochara Bazar Camp, shares Jahir’s complaints, as well as his hopes. He highlights the expected benefits from road improvement that he can pass on to camp inhabitants. “Bad roads and high costs mean I have to charge more for my goods,” he says. “After the road is upgraded, I can lower my prices for people here and at the same time boost my sales.”
Restaurant owner Jahir knows that the poor transport infrastructure in the area can also take a high human toll. When the ambulance bound for hospital on the main road scheduled for improvement under the project was held up in traffic, his brother’s wife lost her baby.