Bangladesh will open its ambitious Padma Bridge this month. The infrastructure project will have enormous ramifications, both within Bangladesh, and beyond.
The Padma Bridge
On June 25, Bangladesh is set to inaugurate the long-awaited “Padma Multipurpose Bridge” —one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country’s history. The nation’s first self-financed signature project is expected to advance the “national power” of Bangladesh by boosting its image, intra-regional and inter-regional connectivity, and economic stardom in South Asia.
Bridges are a critical component of a nation’s infrastructure, enabling both human movement and the transfer of goods and materials. Bridges also facilitate connectivity so that consumers can enjoy services in their own communities and beyond. In many cases, bridges can become a symbol of national pride. China’s Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, for instance, changed the country’s national image forever – through its eco-political and cultural significance, the monumental Padma Multipurpose Bridge of Bangladesh is also expected to champion the country economically as well as geopolitically.
Access to the Nation’s Southwest
Despite spanning 27 percent of Bangladesh and being inhabited by a quarter of the country’s population, the southwestern region was detached from the centre by the mighty Padma River, thus undermining the connectivity, trade, and development of the region. In this context, the Padma Bridge will usher in profound socio-economic benefits for the less-developed southwestern parts of Bangladesh. It is poised to link the less-connected Khulna and Barisal division of the country with the more-connected eastern half – including the capital of Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong.
It is estimated that the bridge will reduce Dhaka’s travel time with the 21 southwestern districts by 25 percent, thus accelerating the pace of the supply chain, trade, connectivity, and tourism sectors. Consequently, the Padma Bridge is set to spur industrialisation in the southwestern region, provide employment to the people, and raise the region’s livelihood standards – uplifting the socio-economic development of almost 30 million people by reducing poverty and inequality within the nation. Estimates suggest that the landmark project will increase the GDP growth of the southwestern part of Bangladesh by 2.0 percent, whereas the country’s overall GDP growth will increase by more than 1.0 percent per annum.
A Boon for Economic Growth
According to the assessments of the Policy Research Institute, the Padma Bridge has the potential to achieve 29 percent growth in the construction sector, 9.5 percent growth in agriculture, and 8 percent in the manufacturing and transport sector of Bangladesh. In addition, according to a report by the Bangladesh Bridge Authority to the Asian Development Bank, the long-term (31 years) road user benefit of the Padma Bridge in the traffic model stood at US $18.5 billion, and in the same way, according to the Social Accounting Matrix (SAM), the total project benefit was projected at $25 billion.
Once the multipurpose bridge is open, the Mongla and Payra seaports will be fully functional – reducing the congestion at Chittagong Port and attracting landlocked neighbouring states like Nepal and Bhutan to access the ports through transit facilities. In addition, the Padma Bridge Railway Link project will reduce the transit time from Dhaka to Kolkata by almost half, to only three to four hours – boosting the country’s international trade with neighbouring countries. Therefore, the Padma Multipurpose Bridge will transform Bangladesh into a viable route for the Trans-Asian Highway (N-8) and the Trans-Asian Railway Network — enhancing the regional and international connectivity with India, Bhutan, and Nepal.
A Powerful Symbol
Though initially the bridge was supposed to be financed by global lenders like the World Bank, ADB, and JICA, all of them refused to sanction the proposed loan due to a corruption allegation made by World Bank in 2011. As a result, the project proceeding slowly which prompted the Bangladesh government to take the historic step of self-financing the 6.15 km bridge – withdrawing the funding requests to the global lenders. Finally, under pragmatic leadership and determination, Bangladesh has achieved its dream which has enhanced the confidence and mental strength of the nation – stirring the country towards greater goals. The success of the Padma Bridge will also encourage foreign investors to invest in the infrastructure and development sectors of Bangladesh – advancing the country’s pursuit of inclusive growth. Thus, the self-financed Padma Bridge will work as a testament to the country’s Vision 2041 – graduating into a higher middle-income status by 2031 and a developed country by 2041.
While countries in South Asia like Sri Lanka and Pakistan are mired in economic and political crises or have fallen into the foreign debt crisis due to their unviable infrastructure projects, Bangladesh has successfully implemented its well-calculated signature project with self-finance – demonstrating the country’s economic and political capital.
Therefore, the inauguration of the landmark double-deck bridge will put Bangladesh at the epicentre of South Asia’s economic stardom and much-needed connectivity – boosting Bangladesh’s position as the intermediary in South Asian and its ability to manage a deft “three-way balancing act” between India, China, and the US. This position will enhance the confidence of the country to kick-start its projection of national capability and sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific theatre of world politics.
In politics and statecraft, however, opportunities and stardom never come without risks, uncertainties, and challenges, which need to be addressed deftly by Dhaka – expected to be graduated from LDC officially in 2026 – in the post-Padma Bridge Era. The government must be pragmatic to overcome the post-LDC challenges, as once graduated the country will no longer be able to avail of several LDC advantages like the preferential market access of its apparel products, to European and North-American markets. In addition, the increased cost of the country’s development projects and rising inflation rates must be addressed with good governance and careful fiscal policies.
Though Bangladesh has enjoyed economic stardom largely by cooperating with its neighbours, the advent of the country as a self-sufficient power with higher ambition can lead to competition and hostilities. In terms of the regional connectivity initiatives, Bangladesh needs to develop an active foreign policy to resolve its neighbour India’s selective approach, which, in many ways, hinders its economic opportunities.
In a nutshell, the Padma Multipurpose Bridge will boost the economic stardom of Bangladesh and transform it into a regional hub for development, connectivity, and investment. The enhanced confidence in Bangladesh by self-financing the construction of the longest bridge will boost its geopolitical value and national image in the international arena – as a “rejuvenated” emerging power in the volatile theatre of the Indo-Pacific region. However, in the post-Padma Bridge era, Bangladesh needs to address the looming complexities skilfully – to continue its ride on South Asia’s economic stardom – uplifting its national rejuvenation as an Asian power.
Kazi Fahim Ahmed is a Research Intern at the East Asia Study Center, University of Dhaka. He has been selected as part of the Young Delegate of Bangladesh, to attend the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5), to be held in Doha, Qatar next year. At present, he is studying at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.
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