Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Asian Highway Network - Bangladesh Options

Saleque Sufi
07.21.2009

Short sighted poorly visioned Bangladesh Government for several years remained in dilemma whether or not to sign Asian Highway Network Agreement mooted by ESCAP. They for a while pursued look east philosophy and preferred to link with autocrat Junta ruled Myanmar than to link with much stronger and more influential SAARC neighbor India risking possibility of getting bypassed. Bangladesh relation with Myanmar could not earn them any favor from that v country or their guarding China. Rather agitated India squeezed Bangladesh in many different areas.

Bangladeshi civil society do not object free flow of drugs , arms for terrorists from across the border, they even do not object to import of dirty coal from neighbors but they object to Asian Highway getting in and getting out in the most economic advantage to Bangladesh. It is ridiculous double standard.

Bangladesh, one of the most thickly populated country of the world surrounded by massive India from 2.85 sides finally made up its mind to join Asian Highway. It is only geographical reality that the road may get into Bangladesh from India to get out on the other side to India.

Consequently India may indirectly get the benefit of transit. But by that Bangladesh gets linked with the rest of Asia and rest of the world.

It is a healthy sign that Bangladesh government has finally decided to link Bangladesh to 27 countries through the proposed Asian Highway network.

If the project comes to fruition, Bangladesh will be connected with many countries including Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines, China, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Bhutan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos and Malaysia. In a recent cabinet meeting held on 16th June 2009 Bangladesh decided on principle to sign an agreement to link it with Asian Highway network which is due to connect Asia and Europe and includes 32 countries .When complete, the Asian Highway Network's 141,000 kilometres of roads are to link Japan and Bulgaria.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioned in the cabinet meeting, “We cannot remain aloof in the age of globalization. We have to go forward with the network in the interest of the socio-economic development of the country,". It is understood that the cabinet decided to avoid routes that may be politically controversial since the main opposition parties led by the right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party have opposed the idea of joining the network due to their anti-Indian stance.

The cabinet also decided that Bangladesh would negotiate the routes once the agreement is signed. "If we are left out of the treaty, there will be no scope left for changing or modifying the routes," Azad said, adding that if Bangladesh fails to join the network it will remain isolated in the region.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific launched the highway initiative in 1959 to enhance regional and international communications between Asia and Europe.

But its development came to a halt in 1975 when financial assistance was suspended, according to the UN agency.

Let us try to discuss Asian Highway project.

The Asian Highway (AH) project, also known as the Great Asian Highway, is a cooperative project among countries in Asia and Europe and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), to improve the highway systems in Asia. It is one of the three pillars of Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development (ALTID) project, endorsed by the ESCAP commission at its forty-eighth session in 1992, comprising Asian Highway, Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) and facilitation of land transport projects.

Agreements have been signed by 32 countries to allow the highway to cross the continent and also reach to Europe. Some of the countries taking part in the highway project are India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea and Bangladesh. A significant part of the funding comes from the larger, more advanced nations as well as international agencies such as the Asian Development Bank. The project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

The project aims to make maximum use of the continent's existing highways to avoid the construction of newer ones, except in cases where missing routes necessitate their construction.

Project Monitor, an Asian infrastructure news website, has commented that the:
"early beneficiaries of the Asian Highway project are the planners within the national land transport department of the participating countries [since] it assists them in planning the most cost-effective and efficient routes to promote domestic and international trade. Non-coastal areas.... are the other beneficiaries."

However, in the mid-2000s some transportation experts were sceptical about the viability of the project given the economic and political climate in both South and South-East Asia. Contents

History

The AH project was initiated by the United Nations in 1959 with the aim of promoting the development of international road transport in the region. During the first phase of the project (1960-1970) considerable progress was achieved, however, progress slowed down when financial assistance was suspended in 1975.

ESCAP has conducted several projects in cooperation with AH member countries step by step after the endorsement of ALTID in 1992.

The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network (IGA) was adopted on November 18, 2003, by the Intergovernmental Meeting; the IGA includes Annex I, which identifies 55 AH routes among 32 member countries totaling approximately 87,500 miles (140,000 km), and Annex II "Classification and Design Standards". During the 60th session of the ESCAP Commission at Shanghai, China, in April 2004, the IGA treaty was signed by 23 countries. By 2007, 28 countries were signatories, which subsequently rose to 32 countries in 2008.

Implications

India is hopeful that the mega project will continue to bring it and Pakistan closer, as a furtherance of the earlier resumption of bus and train services between the two countries after decades of hostilities. The advanced highway network would provide for greater trade and social interactions between Asian countries, including personal contacts, project capitalizations, connections of major container terminals with transportation points, and promotion of tourism via the new roadways. However rights groups in Southeast Asia monitoring the North-South Corridor segment were concerned with the remote area's rapid development resulting in significant increases to exposure of HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and the possible exploitation of the surrounding forests and wildlife resources.

Regional perceptions of the project
According to Om Prakash, an advisor with in New Delhi: "It's an excellent step taken by ESCAP to gather all the Asian countries under one crown but the problem with this project is political disputes between some countries, notably Pakistan and Myanmar, which is delaying the project"
India views the project favorably since it would increase trade with its neighbors, especially Pakistan and Myanmar. Sanjoy Hazarika of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research commented: ""The [2003] agreement between Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand needs to be considered by India as an international link for trade, while retaining the presently designated AH route through Tambli, Bangladesh, and Imphal, India." As well, he also stated: "Given its extensive geographical coverage and the recent move to integrate it with other means of transportation, the Asian Highway project requires collective effort and close collaboration among the Asian countries."

Highway 3 (North-South Corridor) issues
By mid-2008 the North-South Corridor segment of the Asian Highway, AH-3, was nearly fully paved, with only a few kilometers incomplete.

The North-South Corridor Project of has been part of the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) agenda since 1993 and aimed to improved the connected economies of China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. The portion of the North-South Corridor known as Highway 3, which runs through northwestern Laos and connects China and Thailand, was expected to cost US$95.8 million and was being financed with a loan from the ADB, along with funds from the Chinese, Thai and Lao governments. The completed sections of the road have gone from being little more than dirt roads a few years ago to two-lane routes with concrete shoulders, drainage and concrete bridges. The journey from the Lao border town of Huai Xai to the southwestern Chinese border village of Boten situated in southwestern Yunnan province took as long as two days on the old mostly dirt road depending on weather conditions. The new roadway shortened that trip to five to six hours.

The route was expected to be completed in 2007, but damage to the road from floods during the 2006 rainy season pushed the completion date into 2008. While the road was now made passable all year, there are still sections, some of several kilometers in length, which remained unfinished as of 2008.

Highway 3 (North-South Corridor) missing link
Construction of the Thai-built portion of the road lagged behind that of the Chinese section, but some observers contend that was because the Thai section was "much better constructed". They indicated that the Chinese side was built faster because of engineering shortcuts which may make that section of the road less durable.

The most significant problem with the corridor was the lack of progress on a bridge to be built across the Mekong River connecting the Thai town of Chiang Khong, with its cross-border neighbor of Huay Xai in Laos. The Chinese and Thai governments earlier agreed to build the bridge and share the estimated $33USD million dollar cost of the project.

The Thai cabinet approved the project in February 2007 with an expected completion date in 2011, but many remain skeptical that the schedule will be met since successive Thai governments since the late 1980s have similarly promised to undertake the project.

Thai border disputes with Laos, the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, political indifference in Bangkok and a general reluctance on the part of Thais have kept the project on the political 'back burner'. China meanwhile is anxious to develop its land-locked Yunnan province through the creation of trade links with Southeast Asia, including access to Thailand's sea ports. While Thailand may benefit broadly from a new road link with China, others feared a flood of inexpensive Chinese products will impoverish northern Thais..

Some of those fears came to pass with the early implementation of some provisions with the Chinese-Thai free trade agreement, which resulted in a flood of inexpensive Chinese agriculture products. As of 2008, the last incomplete link to Laos represented a significant barrier to efficient trade between the two countries and some commented that was the reason for Thai procrastination on the bridge's completion. Bangkok might also have been using the bridge as a bargaining chip for trade negotiations with Beijing, since the Chinese appeared to increasingly value the route's completion.

Until the bridge's completion, the portion of the AH-3 North-South Corridor remains both incomplete and inefficient. As of 2008, Chinese goods destined for Thailand had to be ferried across the Mekong River between Chiang Khong and Huay Xai and many shippers have expressed their concerns that the ferry costs and Lao customs duties were too expensive, and traders also complained about the lengthy time required for Lao customs procedures and inspections.

Although Laos was pressured to eliminate transit taxes, the cash-short government remained hesitant, in part because China and Thailand were seen to benefit disproportionately from the completed roadway. Currently almost all China-Thailand trade is conducted by shipping up and down the Mekong River, with goods taking from 10 to 15 days to reach their destination.

As of 2008 the water route were suffering from frequent problems of inadequate levels to keep large cargo barges afloat, a situation which is likely to occur more frequently when more of China's planned dams on the river's upper reaches become functional in the future. The economic benefits of the roadway to Laos, meanwhile, are still undetermined.

Highway 3 (North-South Corridor) development issues
While the AH-3 highway was expected to increase business and trade through increased market access to both China and Thailand, including the country's agribusiness and tourism sectors, the Lao government appeared more open to increasing state revenues through the collection of transit fees and taxes on goods that arrived at its borders. It was also under pressure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to embed new costs into the already low intra-regional trade.

According to people involved in the tourism industry in northwestern Laos, while Western tourists were arriving in increasing numbers, tourists from neighboring Thailand and China often only pass through Laos on their way to Boten on the Chinese border, where there's a large casino and market.

In addition to reaping less economic benefits, Laos will also likely have to deal with disproportionate social and environmental costs, people monitoring the project say. Without proper control mechanisms in place, the region's opening would disproportionately benefit government-connected business groups while displacing large numbers of the non-ethnic Lao groups currently living in the area.

A 2002 ADB report estimated that approximately 2,500 people (500 households) might have to be relocated due to the road project; some monitoring groups put the real number much higher. Although resettlement plans were drafted by the ADB to compensate for the loss of houses, land, rice granaries and shops, it was not clear that the funds were truly reaching the people most affected.

Among the issues involved was the resettlement of the original Lao inhabitants of Boten village near the Chinese border, who were moved a kilometer or more down the road to allow the construction of a new Chinese-owned casino, hotel and other commercial developments. The resettled Botens complained that their new site lacked services, and that the land set aside for them was smaller and less fertile than their original land. As well, others complained about rampant land grabs adjacent to the new road by government-connected traders and businessmen who established shops and other businesses on the new prime real estate. A lack of formal land deeds or proper court systems meant there was little justice available to the displaced residents.

The legal vacuum also allowed an increasing flow of Chinese migrants, many of whom first arrived to work on the road and who then stayed on to establish businesses along the road, including whole new villages, which further aggravated those previously resettled to less fertile land.

Rights groups were also concerned with the remote area's rapid development resulting in increases to exposure of HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and the possible exploitation of the surrounding forests and wildlife resources.]

While the ADB's original hopes that the route would reduce transportation costs for the movement of vehicles, goods and people, and also promote faster economic growth, as the 7,300 Km North-South Corridor neared completion in 2008 the real costs and benefits of the project for the local populations of Southeast Asia were still in doubt.

Routes
Route AH1 is proposed to extend from Tokyo to the border with Bulgaria west of Istanbul and Edirne, passing through both Koreas, China and other countries in Southeast, Central and South Asia. The corridor is expected to improve trade links between East Asian countries, India and Russia. To complete the route, existing roads will be upgraded and new roads constructed to link the network. US$ 25 billion has been spent or committed as of 2007, with additional US$ 18 billion needed for upgrades and improvements to 26,000 km of highway.

Numbering and Signage
The project new highway route numbers begin with "AH", standing for "Asian Highway", followed by one, two or three digits. Single-digit route numbers from 1 to 9 are assigned to major Asian Highway routes which cross more than one sub region. Two- and three-digit route numbers are assigned to indicate the routes within sub regions, including those connecting to neighboring sub regions, and self-contained highway routes within the participating countries.

The letters and numbers are printed in western script using the roman alphabet and arabic numerals. Similarly to the E-road network the Asian highway numbers may simple be added to existing signage. The highway routes with a single digit are supposed to cross the whole of Asia while three digit routes are used within a single region of the states - the routes with two digits are longer regional routes that may or may not cross state borders.

The actual design of the signs has not been standardized, only the letters and digits are in white or black but the color, shape and size of the sign being completely flexible. Most examples feature a blue rectangular shield with a white inscription (not unlike German Autobahn signage) with further examples of white on green and black on white rectangular shields.

Route log
Single-digit routes run across the whole continent:
AH1, 12,848 miles (20,557 km); Tokyo, Japan to border between Turkey and Bulgaria (with AH5)
AH2, 8326 miles (13,177 km); Denpasar, Indonesia to Khosravi, Iran
AH3, 4582 miles (7,331 km); Ulan-Ude, Russia (on AH6) to Tanggu, China; and Shanghai, China (on AH5) to Chiang Rai, Thailand and Kyaing Tong, Myanmar (both on AH2)
AH4, 3765 miles (6,024 km); Novosibirsk, Russia (on AH6) to Yarantai, Mongolia; and Urumqi, China (on AH5) to Karachi, Pakistan (on AH7)
AH5, 6488 miles (10,380 km); Shanghai, China (on AH3) to border between Turkey and Bulgaria (with AH1)
AH6, 6547 miles (10,475 km); Busan, South Korea (on AH1) to border between Russia and Belarus
AH7, 3667.5 miles (5,868 km); Yekaterinburg, Russia to Karachi, Pakistan (on AH4)
AH8, 2949 miles (4,718 km); border between Russia and Finland to Bandar Emam, Iran
10-29 and 100-299 are assigned to South-East Asia:
AH11, 992.5 miles (1,588 km); Vientiane, Laos (on AH12) to Sihanoukville, Cambodia
AH12, 747 miles (1,195 km); Nateuy, Laos (on AH3) to Hin Kong, Thailand (on AH1)
AH13, 456 miles (730 km); Oudomxai, Laos (on AH12) to Nakhon Sawan, Thailand (on AH1/AH2)
AH14, 1298 miles (2,077 km); Hai Phong, Vietnam to Mandalay, Myanmar (on AH1/AH2)
AH15, 354 miles (566 km); Vinh, Vietnam (on AH1) to Udon Thani, Thailand (on AH12)
AH16, 645 miles (1,032 km); Dong Ha, Vietnam (on AH1) to Tak, Thailand (on AH1/AH2)
AH18, 651 miles (1,042 km); Hat Yai, Thailand (on AH2) to Johor Bahru Causeway, Malaysia
AH19, 287 miles (459 km); Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand (on AH12) to Bangkok, Thailand (on AH2)
AH25, 1593 miles (2,549 km); Banda Aceh, Indonesia to Merak, Indonesia (on AH2)
AH26, 2198 miles (3,517 km); Laoag, Philippines to Zamboanga, Philippines
30-39 and 300-399 are assigned to East Asia and North-East Asia:
AH30, 1712 miles (2,739 km); Ussuriysk, Russia (on AH6) to Chita, Russia (on AH6)
AH31, 997 miles (1,595 km); Belogorsk, Russia (on AH30) to Dalian, China
AH32, 2342.5 miles (3,748 km); Sonbong, North Korea (on AH6) to Khovd, Mongolia (on AH4)
AH33, 359 miles (575 km); Harbin, China (on AH6/AH31) to Tongjiang, China
AH34, 646 miles (1,033 km); Lianyungang, China to Xi'an, China (on AH5)
40-59 and 400-599 are assigned to South Asia:
AH41, 592.5 miles (948 km); border between Myanmar and Bangladesh to Mongla, Bangladesh
AH42, 2346 miles (3,754 km); Lanzhou, China (on AH5) to Barhi, India (on AH1)
AH43, 1892 miles (3,024 km); Agra, India (on AH1) to Matara, Sri Lanka
AH44, 67 miles (107 km); Dambulla, Sri Lanka (on AH43) to Trinconmalee, Sri Lanka
AH45, 1269 miles (2,030 km); Kolkata, India (on AH1) to Bangalore, India (on AH43/AH47)
AH46, 946 miles (1,513 km); Kharagpur, India (on AH45) to Dhule, India (on AH47)
AH47, 1286 miles (2,057 km); Gwalior, India (on AH43) to Bangalore, India (on AH43/AH45)
AH48, .625 miles (1 km); Phuentsholing, Bhutan to border between Bhutan and India
AH51, 539 miles (862 km); Peshawar, Pakistan (on AH1) to Quetta, Pakistan (on AH2/AH7)
60-89 and 600-899 are assigned to North Asia, Central Asia and South-West Asia:
AH60, 1344 miles (2,151 km); Omsk, Russia (on AH6) to Burubaital, Kazakhstan (on AH7)
AH61, 2599 miles (4,158 km); Kashi, China (on AH4/AH65) to border between Russia and Ukraine
AH62, 1701 miles (2,722 km); Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan (on AH6/AH64) to Mazari Sharif, Afghanistan (on AH76)
AH63, 1521 miles (2,434 km); Samara, Russia (on AH6) to Guzar, Uzbekistan (on AH62)
AH64, 1041 miles (1,666 km); Barnaul, Russia (on AH4) to Petropavlovsk, Russia (on AH6/AH62)
AH65, 781 miles (1,250 km); Kashi, China (on AH4/AH61) to Termez, Uzbekistan (on AH62)
AH66, 622 miles (995 km); border between China and Tajikistan to Dushanbe, Tajikistan
AH67, 1430 miles (2,288 km); Kuitun, China (on AH5) to Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan (on AH62)
AH68, 174 miles (278 km); Jinghe, China (on AH5) to Ucharal, Kazakhstan (on AH60)
AH70, 3020 miles (4,832 km); border between Ukraine and Russia to Bandar Abbas, Iran
AH71, 266 miles (426 km); Dilaram, Afghanistan (on AH1) to Dashtak, Iran (on AH75)
AH72, 717 miles (1,147 km); Tehran, Iran (on AH1/AH2/AH8) to Bushehr, Iran
AH75, 1169 miles (1,871 km); Tejen, Turkmenistan (on AH5) to Chabahar, Iran
AH76, 616 miles (986 km); Polekhumri, Afghanistan (on AH7) to Herat, Afghanistan (on AH1/AH77)
AH77, 811 milwa (1,298 km); Djbulsarcj, Afghanistan (on AH7) to Mary, Turkmenistan (on AH5)
AH78, 672.5 miles (1,076 km); Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (on AH5) to Kerman, Iran (on AH2)
AH81, 714 miles (1,143 km); Larsi, Georgia to Aktau, Kazakhstan (on AH70)
AH82, 788 miles (1,261 km); border between Russia and Georgia to Iveoqlu, Iran (on AH1)
AH83, 107.5 miles (172 km); Kazakh, Azerbaijan (on AH5) to Yerevan, Armenia (on AH81/AH82)
AH84, 742.5 miles (1,188 km); Dogubayazit, Turkey (on AH1) to İçel, Turkey
AH85, 211 miles (338 km); Refahiye, Turkey (on AH1) to Merzifon, Turkey (on AH5)
AH86, 154 miles (247 km); Askale, Turkey (on AH1) to Trabzon, Turkey (on AH5)
AH87, 378.75 miles (606 km); Ankara, Turkey (on AH1) to İzmir, Turkey

Distance by country
The planned network runs a total of 87799 miles (140,479 km).
Afghanistan, (4,247 km)
Armenia, (958 km)
Azerbaijan, 901.25 miles (1,442 km)
Bangladesh, 1127.5 miles (1,804 km)
Bhutan .625 miles (1 km)
Cambodia, 837 miles (1,339 km)
China, 15,978 miles (25,579 km)
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), 825 miles (1,320 km)
Georgia, 721.25 miles (1,154 km)
India, 7145 miles (11,432 km)
Indonesia, 2493 miles (3,989 km)
Islamic Republic of Iran, 6970 miles (11,152 km)
Japan, 750 miles (1,200 km)
Kazakhstan, (13,189 km)
Kyrgyzstan, 1059 miles (1,695 km)
Lao PDR, 1436 miles (2,297 km)
Malaysia, 997 miles (1,595 km)
Mongolia, 2678.75 miles (4,286 km)
Myanmar, 1877 miles (3,003 km)
Nepal, 826.6 miles (1,321 km)
Pakistan, 3360.6 miles (5,377 km)
Philippines, 2198.1 miles (3,517 km)
Republic of Korea, 566.9 miles (907 km)
Russian Federation, 10543.1 miles (16,869 km)
Singapore, 11.9 miles (19 km)
Sri Lanka, 406.25 miles (650 km)
Tajikistan, 1203.1 miles (1,925 km)
Thailand, 3195 miles (5,112 km)
Turkey, 3283.75 miles (5,254 km)
Turkmenistan, 1377.5 miles (2,204 km)
Uzbekistan, 1853.75 (2,966 km)
Vietnam, 1673.75 miles (2,678 km)

Bangladesh is passing through a very critical phase of its history. Polluted rivers, massive traffic jam in major cities, terrible energy crisis created serious national challenges. Its after several years pro liberation democratic force with massive popular mandate is in state power. Anti liberation corrupt inefficient government sponsored corruption and terrorism .Unnecessary hostile attitude with regional super power almost isolated the trouble torn Bangladesh. Huge potential of Bangladesh remained unrealized. Linking with the rest of Asia and Europe will avenue avenues for better utilization of its potentials and resources. Chittagong and Mongla ports can earn huge foreign exchange being used as regional hub. Bangladesh can access regional markets with its produce. It can benefit from Energy Ring. Elected government has popular mandate to take strong decision in the greater national interest. Bangladesh must not remain isolated closing its doors and windows to neighbors. Let Bangladesh open doors of Asian Highway without hesitation.

2 comments:

Asia Economics said...

If you want to know everything about the asia economy you can to to Asia Economic Institute (www.asiaecon.org). "Its mission is to generate a healthy atmosphere of information exchange for the growing Asian market. This interactive flow of information will create a favorable business climate from which every Asian nation stands to benefit", says the director Raymond Mobrez.

aretha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.