A smart environmental system is one of the cornerstones of creating sustainable progress. As pollution levels increase across the globe, harnessing technology to create a better and more sustainable environment is now more important than ever. The case for Bangladesh is even more compelling as it is marked to be one of the worst victims of environmental problems in the world.

What is Smart Environment Management?

The idea of a smart environment is to create an environment embedded with sensors, displays and computing devices for inhabitants to better understand the environment. This also gives them the ability to control and monitor different environmental factors like pollution, waste, energy, etc., and create a more sustainable habitat. The impacts of creating a smart environment are as far reaching as reducing carbon footprints, creating alternative energy sources, avoiding fossil fuels and protecting natural habitats.

Case in Perspective: Bangladesh

About 80% of the total land area of Bangladesh are flood plains and most of the people in the country are directly and indirectly dependent on agriculture.[1] So ecological and environmental patterns significantly impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Moreover, it is estimated that, at the current levels of climate change, by 2050, 1 of every 50 inhabitants of Bangladesh will be displaced and the country will lose about 11% of its land. With 28% of the total population living along the coast line, mass displacements would add to the already intolerable population density and cause insurmountable loss of livelihood.[2] So, taking care of the environment and using technology to tackle these oncoming disasters are the greatest challenges for the country right now. 

Almost all of the sectors of the country are at the whims of the environment and progress is only possible when these things properly dealt with. The interest of Bangladesh in creating a smart environment can be roughly divided into protecting agriculture in rural areas and creating healthier, more sustainable urban areas.

Agriculture and Food Security: The Drivers of Rural Bangladesh

Agriculture is one of the hardest hit sectors of the country in case of any climate change or natural disaster. The sector provides Bangladesh with around 13% of its GDP and employs around 40% of its total labour force.[3] So, millions of lives are left at the whims of the environment and climate in Bangladesh if no prompt action is taken. The risk in the agriculture sector is multifaceted as it involves multiple supply chains and operates in almost every part of Bangladesh. The broad risks are:

  1. Rice makes up for 77% of the total arable land in Bangladesh. Increasing temperatures, prolonged and more frequent droughts and flooding, and losses caused by increasing soil salinity are projected to decrease rice production by 8 percent by 2050.[1] This implies that a large part of our supply of daily nutrition will be lost.
  2. Changing climatic conditions have also contributed to the prevalence of wheat blast, a disease that destroys wheat crops in Bangladesh. 
  3. As crops require specific temperatures and ecological settings to grow, changing environment means lesser yields and more food shortage. Natural disasters also increase in frequency and wreak havoc on the lives of the large coastal communities because of climate changes.

How Smart Environment Management Systems can Increase Food Security in Bangladesh

  • Saving Crops: Artificial intelligence has been a topic of discussion in the agriculture arena for a very long time. AI Technology like Greenhouse Guardian is being used to spot pests in crops without any physical monitoring.[4] In other places, AI is being used to take care of crops remotely, provide water and feed regularly and ensure keep track of growth.[5]

In Bangladesh, large crop harvests can be monitored using technology and regular reports can help track the health of crops. Any abnormal patterns can help detect diseases and keep losses to a minimum. Use of water and fertilizer can be optimized too by using proper need-forecasting. Through this, farmers can be ready for droughts and other sudden shortages. Air and water quality can also be monitored to better understand bad crop yields and take appropriate measures.

  • Mitigating Disaster Damage: Disasters such as cyclones, floods are being successfully predicted everyday around the world. These systems help administrations take appropriate measures to minimize damages.

In Bangladesh, it is often difficult to reach all coastal people in time to evacuate them. Technology such as real time tracking and notifications can help make people aware of any potential disaster beforehand so they can relocate and thus lives and livelihood can be saved.

  • Bridging Labour Gaps: Farming has always been labour intensive work and this trend has begun to change only recently. With the introduction of automation in crop harvesting, picking etc. farmers are making farms more efficient.

The use of automation can be made possible in areas such as rice harvesting, land fertilizing etc. in Bangladesh. This will decrease the demand for manual labour in farmers and make their farms more efficient creating more yield from less input.

Pollution, Waste and Energy: Barriers to Sustainable Urban Areas

Air quality in Bangladesh has been recorded to be hazardous with Dhaka being the 21st most polluted city, according to the 2019 World Air Quality Report.[6] According to a report from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, Bangladesh loses USD 14 Billion a year due to air pollution alone.[7] So, pollution stands as a major threat to both our lives and economy. With our booming industries, proper electric supplies are absolutely essential. Bangladesh deals with a deficit in electricity production and all of these impact the country in multiple ways:

  1. Newborns are one of the most vulnerable groups in polluted environments. An estimated 96,000 children died before reaching the age of 5 due to PM 2.5 air pollution in Bangladesh in 2018. PM 2.5 is basically atmospheric particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. It is dangerous because it is lighter than other types of particulate matter, and tends to stay in the air longer.[7] Besides this, air pollution causes multiple chronic illnesses and causes millions of hospital visits and billions in medical expenditure.
Figure: Level of Pollution in 5 Most Polluted Cities in 2019/ Source: World Air Quality Report[14]
  1. The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters of the world. About 8 to 10 percent of the global greenhouse gas emission comes from fashion industries. This is more than the aviation shipping and maritime industries combined.[8] Bangladesh, being one of the largest RMG producers, produces a significant amount of pollution in the form of toxic waste dumped in rivers and poisonous fumes released into the air. Three rivers around the capital were declared to be biologically dead due to the pollution from the surrounding factories and there are multiple rivers that are practically unsalvageable at this point.[9]
  2. Pesticide contamination has also been one of the major sources of water body pollutants in the country. A study found around 18% to 24% of farmers to be stricken with different health related problems due to occupational exposure of pesticides. Pesticide residues have also been known to cause diseases like cancer and heart diseases.[10]
  3. Although the demand of energy has increased by 10% every year in Bangladesh, the supply growth is yet to catch up to the large demand. A large portion of the total 22,562 MegaWatt electricity production remains underutilized due to gas scarcity, inefficiency related to the aged system and inadequate transmission and distribution networks. So although the country has ensured access to electricity for 94% of its population, blackouts and load shedding due to shortages cause considerable losses to the economy every year.[11]

Smart Environment Management for a More Sustainable City

  • The Jhoot Business: As the city grows, recycling is now more important than ever. There are multiple opportunities to recycle the cloth waste (known as Jhoot) from garments. Although, Jhoot export has been growing by 15% to 20% in recent times, Bangladesh stands a chance to bring in USD 4 Billion per year from this particular market if the country can mobilize its resources properly.[12] The processing costs for these are relatively low and hence this can be implemented and scaled up easily and with less capital investment.
  • Energy Efficiency: With the fourth industrial revolution, solutions that keep monitoring electric consumption and try to optimize performance have gotten increasingly popular because of their massive benefits. Motion sensors to detect movement in empty rooms to optimize lighting, apps to notify users about high electricity wastage points in buildings, lighting systems that stop automatically when there is sunlight are only a few solutions that can massively reduce electricity consumption on a micro scale. For industries, more efficient machines that give better output with less consumption are coming to the market everyday. These work on a macro scale to decrease energy consumption.
  • Pollution Detection and Prevention: There are multiple apps like “Air Quality” that notify the user whenever they are in a high pollution zone and provide them with advice on what to do to stay safe. These apps also display trends that help the user get greater insight into environmental data. High tech face masks that run on batteries are also available in the market that have in-built battery-run filters that purify the air for breathing. 

To prevent pollution, large scale Effluent Treatment Plants have to be installed in garment factories and air filters have to be made more common in brick kilns. 

The Way Forward to a Sustainable and Smart Environment

The government has already announced a waste-to-energy plant as a part of a joint project between the Local Government Division and the Power Division. The plant will be the first of its kind in the country and will use solid municipal waste (SMW) collected from the city corporation areas of Dhaka and Chattogram. Although the first project will be implemented in North Dhaka, there are plans for expansion throughout the country.[13] Besides, the World Bank has already approved a USD 170 Million Project for improving sanitation that includes a state of the art sewage treatment plant.[15] Projects like this hold a strong promise for a better and sustainable environment in the country and have to be brought to micro levels too. 

Given the impending impact of climate change and pollution on Bangladesh, time is of the essence in creating a more sustainable environment. So more manpower and money has to be funneled in tech based environment projects so that the country can take the best possible preparation for this crisis.

Eqra Mohammad Resalat Ohee, Content Writer at LightCastle Partners, has prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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