Bangladesh is a country of a thousand rivers, large and small, and most of its territory is regularly flooded during the monsoon season. This fact makes it extremely difficult and expensive to build modern transportation and communication networks. The river boats and ferries traditionally used for transportation are cheap, but slow and inefficient. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Bangladeshi government has sharply limited resources not only for building new infrastructure but also for maintaining the existing one. From the colonial era Bangladesh inherited underdeveloped and unevenly distributed infrastructure and transportation networks. Poor and inefficient infrastructure undermined the economic development in the country, and only recently has the government been able to address the problem systematically and channel investments towards expanding its highways, railroads, seaports, and airports. More recently, with international assistance the government has also started to modernize its telecommunications infrastructure and introduce the Internet.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Bangladesh is served by a network of 201,182 kilometers (125,014 miles) of primary and secondary roads, but only around 10 percent of them, or 19,112 kilometers (11,876 miles) are paved. In June 1998 the huge US$1 billion Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge was completed, becoming the 12th-longest bridge in the world. The bridge connected for the first time the eastern and western parts of Bangladesh. The completion of this project made an important contribution to the development of the country's transportation network and significantly boosted the quality and speed of passenger and freight transportation. The number of privately-owned cars grew throughout the 1990s, albeit from a very low level (there were 40,000 private cars in 1994). Many cars are very old and in poor repair and produce high levels of pollution on the congested roads of the capital and other major cities. Despite all the problems with the roads and the often-outdated equipment, 66 percent of all freight and 73 percent of all passengers are carried by roads; however, animal-driven carts are still a part of the national landscape, as they provide the cheapest and most reliable transportation for people and goods in most of the country's rural areas.
Bangladesh has a railway system of about 2,745 kilometers (1,706 miles), of which only 923 kilometers (573.5 miles) is a broad gauge (1.676 meter gauge) and the remaining 1,822 kilometers (1,132 miles) is narrow gauge (1.000 meter gauge), according to CIA estimates for 1998. Major links run from the largest Bangladeshi port, Chittagong, to Dhaka and further to the north of the country; other links connect such centers as Khulna and Rajshahi. Historically, the railway was built by the British colonial administration in 1884, running between Calcutta (now India) and Khulna (now Bangladesh). Rail services were halted following the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965. In the 1970s cargo trains resumed their services between the 2 countries. According to a BBC report on 26 January 2001, the government of Bangladesh has expressed its interest in "seriously studying the potential of linking the national railways with the proposed Trans-Asian Railway Network." The Bangladeshi railway system remains a state-owned monopoly requiring large
|Country||Newspapers||Radios||TV Sets a||Cable subscribers a||Mobile Phones a||Fax Machines a||Personal Computers a||Internet Hosts b||Internet Users b|
|a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.|
|b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( http://www.isc.org ) and are per 10,000 people.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
subsidies , as it is notorious for its poor management and a long-established tradition of ticketless travel among the local population. In recent moves, the government began the privatization of some railway services, including ticket reservation and in-service catering. Despite all shortcomings, the railway remained an important mode of transportation, operating 3.7 billion passenger-kilometers and carrying 3.76 million metric tons of goods in the 1998-99 financial year.
The waterways are an important mode of transportation, especially to some remote areas of the country, as no other mode of transportation is available during monsoon season. Bangladesh has 3 major seaports, at Chittagong, Dhaka, and Mongla, and several smaller ports. The largest and most important port is Chittagong, situated around 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Dhaka. According to the EIU Country Report, in 2000 the Chittagong seaport handled around 80 percent of country's imports and 75 percent of exports, or 14.6 million metric tons of cargo and 420,850 containers. There have been several plans backed by private investors to set up 2 modern container terminals (in Chittagong and in Dhaka), but these plans have met opposition from the labor unions. According to the U.S. Department of State, in 1998 the U.S.-based company Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) signed a US$440 million contract to develop a private container project, which includes the construction of 2 container terminals.
Currently, Bangladesh is putting considerable efforts into developing its aviation industry to serve growing tourism and business needs. According to the CIA World Factbook, the country has 16 airports with paved run-ways, including 2 international airports (Chittagong and Dhaka). The largest, Zia International Airport at Dhaka, is capable of handling 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tons of cargo annually. Bangladeshi Biman Airline, the national air carrier, operates a fleet of about 15 aircraft, including 3 Airbus 310-300s, flying to 25 international destinations and serving several domestic routes. In the 1998-99 financial year it carried 1.22 million passengers and 30,869 metric tons of cargo.
Bangladesh belongs to the group of countries with the lowest commercial energy consumption per head in the world. The CIA estimated that in 1999 the country produced 12.5 billion kWh, 85 percent of which was produced using gas, 7.0 percent was produced at hydroelectric power plants, and around 8 percent by using liquid fuel. According to the EIU Country Profile, 85 percent of households in Bangladesh have no electricity and in these places where it is delivered, 40 percent of the electricity generated is not paid for. The country experiences regular electricity blackouts and shortages, and its poor reliability is often cited among factors driving away foreign investors. The Bangladeshi government is willing to address the problem but in general has not had enough resources to build new electric power generating plants. In a recent trend, the Asian Bank of Development (ABD) approved a US$140 million loan to construct a 450-mw gas-fired power station near Dhaka, scheduled for completion in 2003.
Telecommunication services in Bangladesh are underdeveloped and provide one of the lowest rates of telephone ownership per 1,000 inhabitants in the world. The largest company is the Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB), which enjoyed a state monopoly until 1972, when private operators were allowed. As most of the telephone service uses outdated analogue technology, the quality of telecommunication services is often poor and in need of upgrades. In 2000 the country had a mere 490,000 telephone lines and 52,000 mobile phones serving 129 million people. The government is aiming to provide telephone coverage of remote towns and villages that until now have had no telephone connections. With international assistance and increasing private investments, Bangladesh is upgrading its telecommunication system, replacing analogue technology with digital, introducing the Internet and e-mail services, and expanding cellular mobile services.