Densely populated area lacks infrastructure to support essential camp for hajjis
The Hajj camp in Dhaka’s Dakshin Khan has been accommodating out-of-Dhaka hajjis since 1998. The government of Bangladesh established the Ashkona Hajj Camp, a residence facility with the sole purpose of accommodating a large number of pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. As hajjis living out of the capital need to travel to Dhaka for their flight, the camp is a necessary facility without which it will become quite burdensome for the pilgrims to catch their flight. However, the sudden influx of people every year is causing a lot of problems for the local residents.
The Hajj camp is located opposite to Shah Jalal International Airport. Every year for three months the camp comes to life with people from every part of the country flocking to the camp prior to their flight to Saudi Arabia. The camp is situated in Ashkona which is a neighbourhood in Dakshin Khan. The Hajj camp road, as it came to be known, is the only road that connects this area to the main road.
Dakshin Khan Union has a population of around 5,29,500 and mostly accommodates citizens working near the airport area. More people choose to live in this area due to the living cost which is comparatively cheaper than neighbouring residential areas.
Like most of Dhaka city, Dakshin Khan suffers from a poor infrastructure and is in dire need of better-planned roads for its economy to function. As the Hajj campers start to check in, the already overburdened road becomes so crowded that everyday life for the residents and commuters become significantly tougher with the small roads around the area getting crammed with half a million people travelling back and forth.
During the Hajj period, the local means of transport (rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, tom-toms) are banned from entering the Hajj Camp road. This block affects the daily lives of the commuters for a quarter of the year. Throughout this three-month period, the local transportation is stationed at the end of the Hajj Camp road which connects to three other roads leading to Ashkona, Dakshin Khan, and Kawla. All the rickshaws and auto-rickshaws gather at this point to pick up passengers. The crossroad gets packed with people and vehicles with constant traffic congestion, leaving easy moving space.
The traffic situation exacerbates the traffic condition in the area and locals suffer immensely as crossing a distances in the area takes up a lot longer than usual. Local transport users have to get off at the intersection and walk all the way towards the bus stand.
“During the Hajj season, the camp and its surrounding are re-constructed and decorated before the hajjis arrive. The government does a pretty good job in making the place look good in the beginning of the season. But the Hajj Camp road does not have proper drainage system and the road gets submerged under water. It becomes nearly impossible to reach office without getting your shoes and pants wet. I use polythene to cover up my shoes to keep them dry and I see many others doing the same,” said Shah Jahan Khan who is a government service holder and a resident of Ashkona.
There are a huge number of rickshaws and tom-toms running through the narrow streets but it is still not adequate to serve all the commuters. During the peak hours it is hard to find transport at the byroad. Fewer tom-toms can be seen and one has to wait for a while and at times fight their way into getting on one. Besides, some rickshaws are available but they end up asking for a much higher fare than usual as the demand is high.
“Nowadays, I have to wake up before 6 am and make sure that I leave home by 7:15, as my school starts at 8. It is hard to find a tom-tom as there is an enormous rush at that time of the day. There are some rickshaws but they ask more than the usual rate. It’s difficult for me to afford the higher cost everyday. Plus, I have to walk all the way to the main road form the stand which is really tiresome,” said Sajeeda Parveen, who is a school teacher and lives in Taltola.
The roads connected to the Hajj Camp are very narrow; two trucks cannot cross at the same time. As all the local vehicles gather at the cross road, it becomes almost impossible for a bus (carrying the pilgrims) and trucks to pass through. Most of the time, these big vehicles get stuck which ends up causing serious traffic jam.
“The roads often get blocked every morning due to the intense traffic at the intersection. Mostly buses and trucks get stuck as the roads are narrow. Once the roads get blocked it take a lot of time to bring the situation back to normal. I have no option but to walk all the way and this happens every other day,” said Shahina Akther, who works at a day care in Uttara and lives in Ashkona.
With the number of hajjis increasing every year, the situation will likely exacerbate. According to a report from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the number of Hajj pilgrims is increasing every year and the Government of Bangladesh has appealed to the Saudi Government to increase the quota of the Hajj pilgrims. Bangladesh is currently fourth in number of people travelling to Mecca for the Hajj.