Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam has a heartbreaking editorial on Bangladesh’s dismally maintained, murderous roads and waterways in today’sTimes: As she details, using WHO stats, at least 17,000 people die a year on Bangladesh’s roads, not always while they’re in vehicles.
The editorial comes after a summer in which two ferries capsized in the monsoon-ridden country, causing the deaths of over 150 people. As Anam notes, travel by ferry over holiday vacations is usually crowded by lower-income riders, as wealthier citizens prefer to stay in cities to avoid traffic blocks.
The Padma is swollen by monsoon rains at this time of year, and the Pinak-6’s wreck has not yet been located. Ferry disasters happen regularly in Bangladesh — the last one was just a few months ago, in May. Over time, the stories echo one another and become banal. Overloaded boats. Two hundred people on board. Women and children. People waiting on shore for news of their loved ones. A search begun, then called off.
Dhaka-Sylhet highway, meanwhile has been declared the deadliest road in the world by the World Bank. At least 17,000 people die a year on the roads in Bangladesh, most often not from car crashes but from getting hit and killed as pedestrians.
As Anam notes, the more lives that are lost on the roads and rivers of Bangladesh, the less sensitive to human life people will become:
And we will become a little more inured to our disasters. We will say, well, it could have been worse. It could have been a cyclone. The dead could have numbered in the thousands, rather than the hundreds. So we move on. And our social contract gets a little cheaper, a little more brittle.
When we watch another person in pain, an image meant to provoke empathy, we are also acknowledging that this person is not us. The greater the tragedy, the more we feel ourselves separate from it, because we would never be on that ferry, or in that garment factory when it collapsed, or on the side of that road when the car struck.
Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country—with over 155 million citizens to live on only 50,000 square miles of land. As tragedies like those of this summer’s two ferry crashes and last year’s factory collapse make blips in the news, Anam’s rightful fear is that death in a country with so many people will begin to appear commonplace.