Once, hundreds of miles of power distribution line got installed in the country without adding a single megawatt of additional electricity. Now, there is more electricity than the gridline can carry with huge expenditure for capacity payment of often idle quick rental power plants. This is a glaring example of inconsistency in development planning.
A lot of infrastructure projects are now under different phases of development in Bangladesh, while many more are under consideration to materialise the dream of a Developed Bangladesh by 2041. Yes, modern infrastructure is a prerequisite to facilitate economic progress and to provide good living to the citizens. The question is how can the taxpayers know that the infrastructures will deliver the expected outcomes? Is there any tool in place that rates the projects for their sustainability levels from environmental, social and economic dimensions?
A search through various government websites and other sources could not confirm that the projects are assessed for their sustainability achievements.
It is an era of open knowledge source and international collaboration. The opportunity to access the most advanced technologies and development concepts can, in most cases, deliver high quality projects if the delivery agencies can ensure rigorous knowledge storming and effective development leadership. The scenario in Bangladesh in this respect is not generally reassuring.
The Cheonggyecheon creek in Seoul was covered by an elevated highway in 1968, which was dismantled in 2005 to revive the stream as one of the most attractive recreational places in the city. Did the government agencies in Bangladesh take any lesson from this type of costly examples elsewhere as a privilege of becoming a latecomer in the development run? The answer is anybody's guess.
The technology to be adopted shouldn't be the sunset one in the developed world, rather it should be the rising one there -- since 2041 is only two decades away. At least, there should be provisions in the system that the most advanced technology can be adapted as projects progress and after some time they will be in parity in real-time with the developed world.
The Railway Ministry is now looking for electric trains for Dhaka-Chattogram route, which was first introduced 140 years ago (1879) in Germany. New technologies like maglev and hyperloop are fast getting shape in different countries. So, the proposed development of the Dhaka-Chattogram route should consider the possible future transition to the more advanced technologies as the country will be developing.
Simply following the development cycle of the already developed countries is not a smart move and won't ensure parity of the nation with the developed world even after the euphoric 2041 deadline. The technocratic leadership of the country needs to capitalise on the learning from abroad and be farsighted when designing their development programmes at home.
The country needs vision. Bangladesh ranked 116th out of 129 economies for Global Innovation Index in the year 2019. So, there is an immediate need of a befitting system or tool that can empower the national agencies to effectively leverage knowledge and technocratic leadership towards sustainable development across the board.
A good number of garment factories in Bangladesh have received Green Building Certification. Here various environment and social issues such as energy use, emission, safety, water and air quality etc., are assessed for scoring based on certain criteria. UK-based building sustainability scheme known as 'LEED' is mainly used in Bangladesh. However, a customised local tool is important that considers local issues appropriately for this type of certification.
For the infrastructure sustainability certification, there are other schemes. For example, in USA it is ENVISION, in UK it is CEEQUAL and in Australia it is ISCA. Most of the developed countries have developed their own tools for infrastructure and building sectors. Some countries also have infrastructure-specific tool such as GREENROAD in USA for transport infrastructure.
Use of sustainability rating scheme is a new concept and has been in use only for a few years. They include all the important issues of environmental and social dimensions of project development. Economic and government issues have also been included in the recent versions. Projects can be assessed for planning, design, construction and operation phases that ensure all the known issues. Risks and opportunities are studied, recorded and addressed for the best possible outcome in terms of whole-of-life sustainability.
To empower the development agencies in the country for sustainable project delivery, development of an indigenous sustainability scheme, based on the emerging practices throughout the world, has now become a necessity. Apart from the various dimensions of sustainability -- environmental, social and economic -- there is a great need of adding 'knowledge' and 'leadership' as new dimensions for a Bangladesh scheme.
The 'knowledge' dimension can ensure that the project considers all the available opportunities for a futuristic development. The 'leadership' dimension can help groom different levels of technocratic leadership for sustainable project development and delivery. The concerns associated with poor implementation of development programmes in Bangladesh can't be addressed properly without in-depth consideration of the knowledge and leadership issues effectively.
Dr. Shafiq Alam, a sustainability specialist, is Principal Engineer, DTMR, QLD, Brisbane, Australia. [email protected]