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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2221

Letter from America: Thoughts on Bangladesh – 2

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

It is impossible for Bangladesh to move up in the economic ladder without meeting its energy needs. In recent decades, with stronger economy demand for higher standard of living has become a norm, which is dependent on energy. A personal example may shed some light here.

Nearly 30 years ago, when my father built our six-story home in Khulshi, Chittagong, it was the tallest building in the locality. It did not have any elevator though, which was rather the norm then. Nowadays, most residential buildings have elevators and are at least eight-story high. Very few residents have 1-unit homes. As a result, our house is now surpassed by many high-rises in our neighborhood once again reflecting the economic progress that the country has made in the post-liberation period. In olden days, people were satisfied with fans to cool off, but now they need air-condition units, which consume more electricity. Many of the apartment or flat dwellers use washing and drying machines to wash and dry their clothes which again consume electricity. Many also use electric stoves and ovens to cook.

The demand for electricity simply has skyrocketed in every sector, and not just limited to the housing sector. Its demand in the industrial sector has been phenomenal. The ready-made garment industry is an envy of the world providing superb quality at cheap price. Bangladesh, just behind China, is now the second largest exporter of garment products to the USA. (However, safety measures to ensure safety of the workers and workplace has lagged behind in the progress card. As a result, in recent months Bangladesh has witnessed some of the worst industrial accidents of our time.)

Bangladesh’s ship-breaking and –building industry has also grown tremendously with demands for new ships coming from European countries. Many of the new rich within Bangladesh have come from the ship-breaking industry. They have now diversified their reach to other segments – all requiring electricity, gas and water.

As already noted, however, Bangladesh has very limited reserves for gas, oil and coal. And yet, its people were wasteful in its heydays of gas recovery. In the 1970s many of the residential and commercial gas consumers let the gas burn non-stop 24/7/365 even when they were not using it for cooking or other purposes. Sadly, the cost of a single matchstick to burn the gas was valued higher than the wastage that they were incurring on gas. It was criminal and outrageous to the core! A major part of the problem outside the nonchalant attitude of most gas consumers, which is now haunting everyone, was lack of any gas meter to track the usage and as such, no penalty was imposed by the state-run Titas Gas agency on abusers of energy.

The state-run gas agencies are now better managed, with gas meters in place, and a consumer must first pay in advance its intended usage. Unfortunately, when the consumers need gas for cooking, they don’t get enough supply because of fast depleting reserves. So acute is the situation that real estate developers are having difficulty delivering their newly made apartments to buyers for lack of gas and electric supplies.

Vehicles in the ground transportation system have become a major consumer of liquefied gas these days. Because of higher gasoline prices, which are higher than those in the USA, most vehicles have alternative compressed natural gas supplied canisters, which are comparatively cheaper, and give a better mileage than gasoline. Naturally, with ever shrinking supplies and limited reserves the gas consumers are now complaining.

As already noted, massive infrastructure needs to be developed to improve its ground transportation/communication network. And such an initiative must focus on mass transit system, esp. railways, which would help to relieve congestion problem on the roads enormously. This initiative would greatly reduce energy demand within Bangladesh.

To improve the energy supplies within the country, the Hasina administration has taken serious steps and claims to have more than doubled its old capacity since 2008. It has signed a bilateral treaty with Russia which would enable Bangladesh to have its first nuclear plant. Bangladesh has also signed treaty with its neighbor India on share of energy resources.

Alternative sources of energy, e.g., fuel cell, wind and solar, however, have not yet been fully explored. Given the fact that Bangladesh is blessed with hundreds of miles of coast from the Sundarbans to Teknaf and a topical climate, I see tremendous opportunity in the latter two areas to meet its vital energy demand. Collaboration with China may greatly help in these areas.

Many Bangladeshi-born engineers now work or have worked for some of the best known companies in the energy sector. Their skills, talents and experience can be harnessed to grow the necessary competency that Bangladesh currently lacks.

Bottom line: Bangladesh needs a smart policy that balances its energy needs with environmental concerns. As I have noted in the previous article that balance seem to be defective now. The general public has also not been adequately educated about the pros and cons on those debates. Many of the energy crusaders, sadly, are working for foreign interests to keep Bangladesh dependent on others. Many are ignorant about the impact of their protests and lack the necessary knowledge to make the right decision. A concerted effort must be made by the press to debate such issues honestly.

To be continued>>>>

- Asian Tribune -

Letter from America: Thoughts on Bangladesh – 2
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