The World Bank has announced $1.4 billion of support for Bangladesh to upgrade the two-lane Bhomra-Satkhira-Navaron and Jashore-Jhenaidah highways – in the western region of the country – to four-lane ones and approved $500 million for the first phase of the programme.
The approval came from the World Bank within a week of approving a $1.05 billion of loan to create over 2.5 lakh of employment in the country.
Decisions taken at the meeting held in Washington DC, on July 23 were disclosed in a press release issued by the Dhaka office of the global development agency on Wednesday.
The support would be spent to implement the project titled "The Western Economic Corridor and Regional Enhancement (WeCARE) Phase I."
The project will support the government's plan of developing a 260 kilometre economic corridor, in the western part of the country, to benefit over 20 million people.
"The first phase of the program will upgrade 48 kilometres of the N7 highway between Jashore and Jhenaidah and improve about 600 kilometres connecting rural roads and 32 rural markets/growth centers to stimulate the local economy," said the press release.
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 a lot of agricultural and natural produce plus holds great potential for becoming a gateway for regional and international trade," said Mercy Tembon, World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
She also said this project will unlock the region's potential by stimulating districts' economies, linking farms to markets, and connecting Dhaka with the western region and neighboring countries – enhancing trade, transit and logistics along the corridor.
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.
World Bank Senior Transport Specialist and Project Task Team Leader Rajesh Rohatgi said 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 labour-intensive civil works," said Rajesh.
"Even in the post Covid-19 period, the project will create jobs for the local communities through civil works for the national highway plus connecting rural roads and markets," he added.
The project will also enhance the agriculture supply chain's efficiency in the western region by ensuring that produce is transported to markets in less time and at a 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.
The World Bank will provide the support from its soft loan window – International Development Association (IDA).
The government would repay the loan by a 34-year term, including a four-year grace period. With this financing, the World Bank's total commitment in the current financial year stands at $2.27 billion.