Bangladesh’s road network gets damaged a lot sooner than the expected longevity period due to poor construction, especially the use of low-quality bitumen.
Experts and sector insiders have blamed the use of imported low-quality bitumen for the lack of durability of the country’s road network.Bitumen is considered the prime ingredient for road construction. The sustainability and durability of roads also depend on the use of quality bitumen. But most of the roads get damaged or dilapidated in Bangladesh just 6-12 months into their construction, causing sufferings to commuters and waste of public money.
It is alleged that a group of importers have been importing low-quality bitumen and supplying to the constructors for road construction work.
As imported low-quality bitumen is being used in construction, roads get dilapidated or damaged way sooner than their expected duration.
Bitumen is being imported in drums and in bulk from different countries without any quality testing. As there are no conditions in the import policy, neither the Customs Department nor Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) have any scope to check the quality of imported bitumen.
Experts said products like bitumen should be checked and validated while entering the country to ensure the quality and durability of roads.
“It is indeed important to have the quality test before customs clearance in a bid ensure the quality of bitumen,” they added.Also, proper monitoring of the use of imported bitumen is largely ignored. In the case of road construction, galvanization of bitumen, the mixture of bitumen and stone and quality grade of bitumen are not being checked.
In a bid to prevent the use of low-quality bitumen in road construction, Road Transport and Bridges Ministry issued a circular in 2015, asking the authorities concerned to use 60/70 grade high-quality bitumen in road construction.
Road maintenance agencies are also reluctant in ensuring the use of quality bitumen.
Engineer Md Aktarul Haque, former Managing Director of Eastern Refinery Limited (ERL), stressed the need for preventing the import of low-quality bitumen by any means. Proper monitoring and ensuring the quality of the imported bitumen can save the country from indirect loss of public money in road maintenance and repair, he observed.
He also said contractors often purchase low-quality bitumen from importers at lower prices to maximize their profit. “That’s why monitoring and quality test should be ensured.”
Dr. Mahmood Omar Imam, a professor at the Civil Engineering department of Chittagong University of Engineering Technology, said the durability of roads depends on the quality of bitumen, adding “If quality bitumen is ensured during construction, roads do not get damaged in just a year.”
The government should realize that the use of quality bitumen can improve the durability of roads and save public money as well, he added.
According to Road Maintenance Management System (RMMS) data, Bangladesh has around 22,419-kilometer roads across the country in different categories. There are around 3980km roads under the national highway, 4897km under the regional highway and 13,541km roads at district level.
Bangladesh is mostly dependent on imported bitumen. The country imports 87 per cent of its total bitumen demand while state-owned Eastern Refinery Ltd (ERL) produces the rest 13 per cent.
Sources at Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) said Bangladesh has a demand of around five lakh metric tonnes of bitumen annually. Of the total demand, ERL supplies 60,000- 70,000 metric tonnes and the rest is imported from Middle East countries.
Taking advantage and lack of further test, a group of importers are bringing low-quality bitumen and selling to the customers.
Poor road condition blamed for road accidents
Experts said poor road condition is one of the major causes behind road accidents, which claim thousands of lives in the country every year.
According to Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association’s (BPWA) annual road accident monitoring report for 2020, as many as 6,686 people lost their lives and 8,600 were injured in a total of 4,891 road accidents in 2020 in Bangladesh.
It means on average, roughly 18 people were killed every day in road accidents across the country.
In the last two decades, no fewer than 56,987 people were killed in 58,208 road accidents across Bangladesh, according to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).