Transport vessels on a river in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Cooperation in action Reviving Bangladesh’s inland waterways

People in Bangladesh live on the front lines of climate change. In the densely-populated, low-lying, mainly riverine country, over 28 per cent of the population reside in coastal areas. Rising sea levels, cyclones, and other climate-induced disasters regularly threaten people and destroy harvests, livelihoods and infrastructure. The climate change-induced melting of Himalayan glaciers is further amplifying this problem.

People cross a river in Bangladesh via a narrow footbridge and by boat.
Despite, and in view of, these challenges, Bangladesh is showing real leadership in developing a low- carbon and resilient economy to deliver long-term sustainable development benefits for its citizens. (External link) As a member of the NDC Partnership, the country has collaborated with the NDC Support Facility of the World Bank. The Facility, supported by the BMZ, has worked with the Government of Bangladesh to develop a low-carbon strategy for the country’s inland waterway transport sector. It has also supported the preparation of a greenhouse gas inventory and a monitoring, reporting and verification system to support a low-carbon and resilient transition.

As part of the low-carbon strategy a pilot exercise is being undertaken aimed at shifting a part of Bangladesh’s cargo transport to inland waterways. Currently, road transport is the backbone of the country’s commercial traffic, accounting for 60 per cent of it. It is thus a growing source of national greenhouse gas emissions and the associated air pollution has been a growing public health concern. Especially along the corridor from the capital Dhaka to the busy international seaport of Chittagong on the Bay of Bengal, congestion often causes significant delays in the transport of goods within Bangladesh’s export-driven economy.

At the same time, less than five per cent of containerised cargo traffic is transported by inland waterway vessels. Shifting cargo transport to the existing inland waterway transport route connecting Dhaka to Chittagong is crucial to boosting Bangladesh’s export-led growth in the long term, as well as lowering emissions in the transport sector in line with the country’s NDC. Additionally, utilising inland waterway transport would lower transaction costs for suppliers and improve the reliability and efficiency of freight transport in the country.

Including public and private stakeholders in decision-making and planning

Two promising impacts have emerged from the NDC Support Facility’s support. First, a broad coalition of public and private sectors stakeholders has been created to promote inclusive planning and decision-making. Members come from the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Shipping, inland waterway and port authorities, customs and shipping companies and multinational companies involved in Bangladesh’s textile sector. Together they reflect the complexity and the multi-sectoral effort required to boost the competitiveness of the inland waterway transport sector, which in total boasts a network extending 24,000 kilometres.

Low-carbon solutions proposed by the coalition include guaranteed payments to barge service providers; short-term subsidies to carriers to equalise the costs of using inland waterways instead of roads; and addressing last mile connectivity constraints and warehousing logistics. Building on these recommendations, the Government of Bangladesh has launched a pilot project for the Dhaka-Chittagong corridor, with support from the World Bank’s Bangladesh Regional Waterway Transport Project (External link).

Container port on the Meghna River in Bangladesh

Container port on the Meghna River in Bangladesh

Container port on the Meghna River in Bangladesh

Creating a knowledge base to support low-carbon and resilient policies and investments

Another impact of the support was the preparation of a greenhouse gas inventory and tools for monitoring, reporting and verification. These have helped create a knowledge base to enable government agencies to effectively report on emissions in the inland waterway transport sector. This effort paves the way for evidence-based low carbon policies and investments. Through the use of more efficient vessels, alternative fuels, auxiliary power and trip efficiency, the sector could reduce emissions by between four and ten per cent annually by 2030. Equipped with data tools and expert recommendations, officials and policymakers in Bangladesh can more closely align transport policy and business planning with the NDC targets. The activities have also generated interest among waterway authorities and private companies in enhancing the resilience of ports, vessels and waterways.

Bangladesh is well-positioned to emerge as a global leader in establishing a greenhouse gas inventory and developing monitoring, reporting and verification systems for inland waterway transport. The country’s experience with cargo transport is applicable to other countries with existing waterways.

As at: 25/10/2022