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21 January, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Advanced ICT infrastructure for sustainable development

There is much scope for lowering vulnerability to natural disasters by using ICT
Tanvir Ahmad
Advanced ICT infrastructure for sustainable development

In this 21st Century Information and Communications Technology (ICT) knowledge has emerged as a leading determinant of economic growth and human welfare. At the economy level, ICT knowledge is transforming ways that new technology is developed and adopted to enhance productivity and lower cost. At the individual level, the speed and ease by which an economic agent acquires and absorbs relevant knowledge to inform the underlying economic decision conveys a huge competitive edge. ICT knowledge is also transforming people’s welfare by facilitating advances in medical sciences that is contributing to increased life expectancy and health quality through preventive, diagnostic and curative measures.

Bangladesh is relatively a newcomer to the ICT sector. The emphasis gained momentum through the Digital Bangladesh initiative developed in the context of Vision 2021. The Government of Bangladesh is pledged to transform the country into ‘Digital Bangladesh’, which implies the broad use of computers, and embodies the modern philosophy of effective use of technology in terms of implementing Government’s commitment for development in education, health, job placement and poverty reduction. While there are many long-term challenges in upgrading the digital performance of Bangladesh, especially in the areas of spending on research and development and increasing the availability of skilled professionals in science and technology, Bangladesh has made important strides in the area of ICT.

Advanced digital ICT infrastructures development is not only the key step for successful implementation of Digital Bangladesh vision but also an important precondition for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The vision for Digital Bangladesh is to establish an equitable, inclusive society and economy. Development of a comprehensive civil registry that is linked to all service delivery by the government, and preferably also by non-government service providers, will ensure inclusion. An effective and efficient Information & Communications Technology (ICT) system can disseminate knowledge and make it usable at the doorsteps of all citizens. The adoption and successful implementation of the Digital Bangladesh programme will help raise labour productivity, reduce transaction costs, and improve market access as well as customer responsiveness. The improvement in ICT infrastructures will also boost the sustainable progress in the fields of agriculture, education, health, law and human rights, human resource development, social security, environment and disaster management, tourism sector development etc.

True financial inclusion mechanisms that provide low-cost mechanisms at citizens doorsteps for banking, money transfer including safety net payments and local and foreign remittances, credit including micro-credit, insurance including crop, health, life, disaster and other kind, must be formulated and popularized. ICTs have proven to increase productivity in virtually all sectors of economy and business ranging from agriculture, manufacturing and services. Appropriate productivity tools should be adopted alongside incentives for quick adoption. It is believed that the promotion of ICT based model targeting micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will play important role in fostering entrepreneurships in the country. To take advantage from this potential, SME Foundation should undertake a project to study growth potentials of software companies and constraints limiting the exploitation of those potentials. Implications of mobile financial services on poverty reduction and economic growth are well perceived. Within a short span of time, Bangladesh has achieved significant progress in mobile based financial services. To speed up banking transaction, implementation of Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) transaction speed system should undertake. If it is implemented, transaction of large sums of money from one bank account to another bank customer can be completed within a minute.

The human resource development component of ICT should consist of four parts: (a) building e-learning infrastructure, i.e., one school, one computer lab, smart classroom with e-learning facilities; (b) ICT education; (c) ICT-based education; and, (d) vocational ICT training facilities for the youth. ICTs hold immense promise for a country like Bangladesh which boasts a booming youth population, with a sharp interest to learn ICT tools and put them to the purpose of gainful employment.

The primary objective of e-governance initiatives should be to aid the transformation of Government to provide efficient, convenient and transparent services to citizens and businesses through ICT.  The Perspective Plan stipulated that e-governance will manage the way that citizens deal with the government and with each other, allow citizens to communicate with government, participate in government policymaking and planning, and to communicate with each other. It further articulated that work flow in government and semi-government offices will be fully integrated with ICTs through re engineering of the government’s business process. In making services pro-poor through embedding the use of ICTs across the government, the underlying vision is to make the civil service capable and interested to use ICT tools for management, planning, implementation and monitoring budget and non-budget purposes.

In order to take public and private information and services to the marginalized communities in rural areas, ICT provisions must be made easily available to the marginal people in order to share indigenous knowledge and innovations related to pest management, crop preservation, etc. The most important physical asset that the poor have is land. Due to various inefficiencies, land disputes are pervasive. ICT can play a major role to improve the efficiency of land markets, reduce land disputes and protect the poor from the predatory behaviour of land grabbers. Digital land management system should be introduced in order to make land administration and management transparent and accountable by making land records available online, through conducting satellite technology based digital survey, preparation of digital maps and ledgers. The Government should strive for creating an easy service delivery system for the citizens in case of land transactions through e-solutions. The existing initiative for digital land management system should be replicated all over the country to remove all the constraints/barriers regarding transaction of land for economic development. In Bangladesh, there is an immense opportunity of improving productivity of sustainable agriculture through utilization of Geographic Information System (GIS) based soil mapping system to analyze detailed data to provide information relating to crop suitability, land zoning, nutrient status and fertilizer dosage. To benefit from this opportunity, necessary infrastructures must be provided.

Telemedicine, particularly mobile phone based solutions, could be launched at a national scale to provide medical information, consultation and services. Standard operating procedures will be developed for clinics and hospitals. Patients’ information and queue management protocol will be automated using the CCDS. On the other hand, similar to online and mobile payments facility for utility services, measures would be explored so that patients do not spend a significant amount of time in paying bills or in arranging accommodation. Availability of essential drugs would be monitored. It is also imperative to design systems by considering persons with disabilities.

Notwithstanding the substantial progress with improving disaster management, there is still a lot of scope for lowering vulnerability by using ICT. For example, there is still a serious problem of identification of victims and proper distribution of relief and post-disaster rehabilitation support. The underlying vision is to ensure that all citizens, irrespective of their residence, whether plain or high land, coastal or inland, can survive without fear of being affected by natural calamity and subsequent misery.

Making Digital Bangladesh a reality and expanding ICT exports will ultimately require large public investments in ICT fixed infrastructure, ICT-related R&D and skills development. However, it is possible to mobilize finances in a flexible way. The ICT Policy allows the provision for a percentage of the revenue budget and development budget to be used for ICT-based expenditures.

Many large projects have ICT components which can be more effectively designed and sourced often by pooling funds or sharing plans and activities.

Mechanisms may be devised for a holistic approach in ICT implementation especially when connectivity, hardware and software infrastructure components are concerned. Since a large portion of ICT activities are funded by development partners, more aid effectiveness can be obtained by coordinating across development partners as well. The writer is a contributor to

The Independent.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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