Actually one of us or the other face this situation every single day. We have no idea when to start out to reach our destination in time. A 20-minute commute can take two hours, a one hour journey can take four. Many of us feel next to tears, stuck in the traffic jam, or near to tearing out our hair. There is no one we can approach, now one we can ask -- such is the social circumstances that make us feel all the more helpless.

Sitting in the traffic congestion, we fill our lungs with the dust and sand of the 'development' work all over the city. We sweat. We lose our hearing. We are in physical pain. We become mental wrecks with suppressed anger, frustration and dismay.

Can this be called a traffic jam anymore? Or is it a disaster? Wikipedia defines disaster as a serious problem occurring over a short or long period of time that causes widespread human, material, economic or environmental loss. This disaster can either be natural or manmade.

If we follow this definition, then the state of Dhaka's traffic congestion and environment is certainly a disaster of our own creation. There is a provision to declare an area a 'disaster zone' if it falls into such a calamity. We have a Disaster Management Act 2012 in our country which also defines disaster. It says "disaster means any such incidents mentioned below created by nature or human or created due to climate change and its massiveness and devastation cause such damage to cattle, birds and fisheries including life, livelihood, normal life, resources, assets of community and the environment of the damaged area or create such level of hassle to that community whose own resources, capability and efficiency is not sufficient to deal this and relief and any kind of assistance is needed to deal that situation."

Our policy makers have no interest in projects which do not entail expenditure in billions. Is there any need to explain or clarify this lack of interest

Traffic jams have not only disrupted 'normal life' in Dhaka, but is on the way to bringing it to a complete halt. Every day 5 million (50 lakh) working hours are being wasted, the people are subject to intolerable suffering. It is also, at the same time, being proven that the 'capability and efficiency' of those involved in the management of the city are inadequate. Dhaka is now the city with the second worst air quality in the world, four among the most unlivable cities and, in the latest development, it is the worst city globally in noise pollution. If this is not a disaster zone, when what is?

The problem is, if Dhaka is declared a 'disaster zone', there is no one to do anything about it. The city termed as a 'cancer patient' by communication and transport expert Dr Shamsul Hoque, certainly needs chemotherapy. We have no idea whom to hold responsible for this predicament of the city. The two city corporations? The traffic police? The road transport ministry? RAJUK? The home ministry? The district administration? Or the planning ministry? There are so many for Dhaka, but no one at all.

What is the sum result of all the development that has been done? And what about the ongoing 'development'? How far will it allay our sufferings? Dhaka has seven flyovers. The people of Dhaka tolerated the birth pangs of these in silence, but now we cannot fly over these flyovers. There too we are stuck hour after hour. It has been proven in many countries of the world that flyovers are not an answer to traffic jams. When we started constructing flyovers, many countries were demolishing theirs.

The Metrorail is now our area of hope. The Metrorail route from Uttara to Motijheel is scheduled to start within two years or so. There are plans for another four Metrorail routes by 2035 and work has commenced to that end. In 13 years when all five routes of the Metrorail are in operation, will the state of Dhaka be a bit more tolerable? After spending 19 billion dollars (1,900 crore dollars) on the Metrorail, this will lessen the pressure on traffic by only 17 per cent!

Development is on and the work is visible. The problem is that the development that has been done so far has brought no relief to the denizens of Dhaka. There is hardly any assurance that the ongoing development will lend any form of comfort either. Why are we in such a mess? The communication and transport expert Dr Shamsul Hoque has blamed 'whimsical development' for this state of affairs.

Is this 'whimsical development' being carried out due to our lack of knowledge and intelligence or is there any other motive behind this? Mega projects are being undertaken, but why is no one interested in bringing all the public transport on the bus routes under one or a few companies? We sees billions being spent of the transport system that will bear 17 per cent of the passengers, but development is ignored for the transport system catering to 40 per cent of the commuters. And there is hardly any expenditure in developing the bus transport system and neither is it time consuming. Clearly, the problem is not in our understanding. The bottom line is, our policy makers have no interest in projects which do not entail expenditure in billions. Is there any need to explain or clarify this lack of interest?

The crux lies in the aim and objectives of this so-called development. If the objective is different, then this 'development' will simply continue. And we will remain stuck in the traffic, in tension and tears.

* AKM Zakaria is deputy editor of Prothom Alo and can be reached at [email protected]

* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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