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OP-ED: Can smart cities help fight Covid-19?

  • Published at 07:16 pm June 24th, 2020
Technology Robot

We have to re-think the way we live

Humans are highly at risk of being infected with the Covid-19 virus, which has paralyzed socio-economic activities across the world. Given the human-to-human transmission nature of the virus, social distancing remains the prime preventive measure against the pandemic. 

While anticipating the discovery of a vaccine against the virus, there is a need to develop a sustainable method in handling social and physical distancing measures.

To flatten the curve of Covid-19, an urgent and digital approach such as the use of smart techniques and devices is required to reduce direct person-to-person contact. 

It is high time all countries considered necessary initiatives regarding the applicability of smart cities; otherwise, nations, particularly the developing ones, will fall into a deep recession owing to failure in sustaining socio-economic activities.

Considering the relationship between environment, technology, and economy, environmentalists and policy-makers might be poised to consider strategies that make the cities, as well as countryside areas, sustainable. 

Therefore, to protect the global environment from the negative effects of Covid-19, the concept of smart cities is desperately warranted. 

Generally, a place where information and communication technology is used effectively to improve the efficiency of transport, health care, and educational services along with sustainable use of natural resources is called a smart city. 

Due to the flexibility and quality of this system, cities will experience improved safety, friendly environment, and enhanced wellbeing of residents. 

Currently, countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Germany, China, and Malaysia have developed strategies towards integrating the concept of a smart city by adopting the use of advanced technologies to handle the Covid-19 cases.

However, the question then arises: Is Bangladesh ready to adopt smart technologies to combat the current pandemic? The answer is probably no; since most developmental processes in the country still depends on the primordial method rather than smart procedures. 

In addition, the majority of the people lack exposure to modern and latest practices in their profession, as well as their personal lives. Therefore, in the absence of smart technology to facilitate working from home, many people still have to go to their workplaces during the pandemic, thereby increasing the risk of possible infection and death. 

Besides, long-time closure of workplaces due to Covid-19 might be unfavourable, as the country was recently declared a lower-middle-income country due to improved economic activities. 

Generally, economic and social aspects should be considered in the implementation of sustainable development. In addition, common sustainability challenges such as social distancing, lower technological adaptation, decreased economic growth, high mortality rates, etc were observed across the globe during this pandemic. 

Therefore, the following could be considered in driving the country towards becoming a smart city. First of all, online health services apps should be standardized and implemented nationwide. This will allow both rural and urban people to access health-related information and services, and protect themselves from the virus.

Second, schools, colleges, and universities should employ online platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Classrooms for regular classes and exams. A few schools and universities have started adopting the online learning systems. 

Unfortunately, most educational institutions lack sufficient amenities to materialize this innovation, as many students from public universities lack even basic email addresses.

Third, businesses should be migrated online. 

Online business in Bangladesh are becoming a trend as more young entrepreneurs are selling their products online. Therefore, it is advised that all businesses should establish an online presence to limit person-to-person physical contact and consequently reduce the number of newly infected cases. 

Moreover, it is worth noting that the success of an online business is dependent on the transparency of transactions and the consistency of product quality.

Fourth, online banking should be extended to all kinds of transactions, including the payment of utilities such as electricity, water, and others to reduce physical contacts. Fifth, successful implementation and adoption of a smart city system come at a higher cost implication. Therefore, the government should allocate significant financial resources for its actualization. 

Similarly, both local and international organizations should play an important role to minimize the operational cost of sustainable smart cities. For instance, the broadband internet packages and mobile internet should be made affordable to the general public for accessing their online apps.

Last but not least, a smart region is not a mere idea, but rather a practical and adaptive development for the citizens of the country. 

The inhabitants should be given proper orientation and training on the concepts of sustainable smart cities, which will subsequently result in a widespread acceptance of smart infrastructure, buildings, transportation, energy, health care, technology, governance, and education.

Nusrat Jafrin is Assistant Professor, Department of Population Sciences, University of Dhaka. Muhammad Mehedi Masud is Assistant Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Malaya, Malaysia.

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