Author: Taposh Ghosh

 

Services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.
have changed the way we perceive televised content.

“Consumers are in control”. This might be the headline tomorrow if anybody decided to splash a story on television viewing across the front pages of newspapers, with the story beneath talking about how an ever-expanding array of channels, platforms, devices, experiences, and choices is positioning customers to dictate the future of television for a foreseeable amount of time.
The television industry is currently in a disarray, with multiple disruptions hitting it from all sides. For years, the model for broadcast has been simple – advertiser-driven. Advertisers paid the networks to broadcast their messages to a large group of TV households. For the cable industry, cable programmers used a subscription model, paying good money for good programming.
But now, the industry is in a turmoil, being turned upside down because of Internet connectivity in homes, Smart TVs and an ever-widening array of viewing options for people. Ultra-cheap streaming video options and television services are cutting into the market share of the long-time cable television powerhouses. Television appears to be assailed by a range of digital challenges, but how is it faring in this environment?

SUBSCRIPTION VIDEO-ON-DEMAND – A BLESSING OR A BANE?
Proclamations of doom by commentators on the internet about the future of television are easy to find. Every major technological advance, such as the Internet and tablets has prompted a flurry of misguided obituaries for traditional television.

But regardless, traditional television’s current nemesis is subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), a service that delivers television programming via broadband networks. This is seen primarily as a challenge to traditional pay-TV providers but is also perceived as a potential threat to free-to-air broadcasters. SVOD competes for spend, as well as for on-screen talent, programme producers and writers, and viewer attention.

Faster and better broadband have made SVOD a commercially viable proposition, and user numbers and revenues both appear to be growing rapidly. The best-known SVOD provider, Netflix, has over 50 million subscribers in over 40 countries; and investors’ faith in the company is such that as at the beginning of August 2014 its market capitalization was over $25 billion. The critics have been impressed too. Netflix had 31 nominations (compared to HBO’s 99) in the 2014 Emmys for shows for which it is the distributor.

However, research by Nielsen has found that SVOD is only a small part of overall viewing: among the top 20 percent of US viewers who used streaming to get programmes, their average streamed content was 22 minutes per day, compared with an average of 242 minutes for their watching of live TV.

At the same time, most discussions about SVOD focus on new players in the TV space, most commonly Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. However, the SVOD market globally also includes services provided by traditional pay-TV companies and free-to-air broadcasters, many of which are extending their SVOD offer, including giants such as HBO in the US and Hotstar by Star India.

DOMINANCE IN SPORTS BROADCASTING RIGHTS, BUT FOR HOW LONG?
The total value of global premium sports rights in 2017 stood at $47 billion as per Inside Sport. Key drivers of the increase are new domestic broadcast deals for major North American sports properties, namely the NFL, NHL, and NASCAR, all of which are delivering a substantial uplift in rights fees compared to previous deals.

Many commentators continue to ask when the sports rights value ‘bubble’ will burst, leading to stagnating or declining rights fees. Consulting giant Deloitte’s view is that rights fees for live rights to premium properties will continue to grow.

The premium live sport continues to deliver large audiences, typically with an attractive demographic profile. It drives subscriptions and can generate advertising for broadcasters, particularly in an increasingly diverse media landscape. The development of pay TV, in particular, has transformed the broadcasting of premium sports leagues. Live content is a key subscription driver and underpins pay-TV business models. As the pay-TV subscriber base rises and revenue per user grows, operators are investing increasing sums to secure this key content.

Along with substantial growth in rights fees, there continues to be further investment in the quality of broadcast production for sports. Premium rights owners face a continual challenge to ensure cutting-edge broadcast quality, for example by evaluating the viability of coverage in ultra-high definition.

It is important for broadcasters and production teams to review continually the technologies available to them, in order to enhance the value that their viewers derive from watching sport. For the television experience, this includes UHD, super-slow motion and an enhanced choice of live matches. On-demand services available to viewers include camera angles, player tracking, instant replays, statistics, and commentary. Making all of this available, not only on the television but also through any other device that fans may want to use, should increase the perceived value of the experience, even if these additional viewing options are seldom exercised.

At the same time, such on-demand innovative delivery can be made via channels such as smartphone application, similar to how ESPN has been operating over the past few years. Rather a worrying prospect is the selling of premium sports right to social media platforms, such as the case of Facebook buying rights to show La Liga games in India.

CAN THE TELEVISION INDUSTRY COMPETE IN TERMS OF INNOVATION?
If you were to ask a hundred senior executives to name five innovative companies, you would likely end up with a list dominated by Silicon Valley’s finest but bereft of traditional media companies. If you were to compare the research and development budgets of the top ten technology companies with those of broadcasters, you might struggle to find sufficient broadcasters with R&D teams of any scale.

This does not imply, however, that the traditional television industry is not innovative. Rather it reflects popular perceptions of ‘innovation’ which tend to focus on disruptive technology-centric innovations, such as the self-driving car, delivery by drone or tablet computers.

Television’s innovations are typically smaller in scale and greater in quantity: the aggregate of all these changes over the last decade is a television service which for consumers and suppliers alike is distinct from a decade back, and which has retained audiences and grown revenues despite the recent surge of digital and digitally-enabled distractions.

The TV industry has survived this decade of change through reinventing itself technologically across multiple aspects. Production quality has improved markedly: the majority of footage from just a few years back is markedly dated. The TV has also become more agile in delivering stories by exploiting advances in connectivity. For example, news broadcasters are using multiple 3G and 4G channels simultaneously to deliver a high-quality feed from wherever there is sufficient mobile coverage, rather than having to wait for the satellite truck.

The distribution of television pictures has undergone profound change over the past decade. The majority of broadcasters in Europe have successfully migrated to digital terrestrial transmission, increased their HD offer and launched on-demand services. There has also been innovation in the financing of programming, with initial funding being raised from a variety of rights – from streaming on mobile to subscription video-on-demand in other territories – in addition to the first broadcast. Crowdfunding is also being used – it provided the money needed to revive Veronica Mars: fans raised $5.7 million to bring the title back to life.

TELEVISION’S EVOLUTION IN THE LONG-TERM
Looking ahead, television will continue to evolve – as it has no other alternative. Change is likely to continue to be characterized by multiple increments, some taking many years to deploy fully, rather than dramatic change.

Online delivery of television programmes will become steadily more popular and more voluminous. Viewers will expect the quality of on-demand delivery to be similar to that offered by broadcast, even though the underlying technologies are very different: the Internet,after all, was not designed for real-time delivery of content. Broadcasters, SVOD providers and network operators will need to work together to architect networks so as to be able to replicate the broadcast experience.

Today’s television still largely resembles that from a decade back: channels, story arcs, peak programming timings are all constants. But at the same time, TV has become profoundly different, production quality has ratcheted up, formats are more refined, there are more channels, there is more choice over when and where to consume. The consumer’s response to this has been to largely carry on as before: the majority of viewers choose to watch in the living room, live, in the evening, with adverts, in the company of people, and with the TV tuned to the channels that dominated ten years ago; teenagers and older children living at home, choose to watch in their bedrooms, but on laptops now, and not on portable TV sets. Television has innovated and is adapting to the digital world, and for now, its consumers have largely chosen to stick with it. But things may be totally different five years down the line. Are TV channels ready for that revolution?

 

The global demand for healthcare services continues to rise significantly, with aging populations, increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, and the search for a better quality of life.
Such prospects combines with industry growth, technological integration, and strong value-creation potential make healthcare an exciting industry to work around. However at the same time, cost concerns, uncertainty, and complexity make it an unnerving one, providing substantial upsides for players that can deliver value-creating solutions and thrive under uncertainty.
McKinsey’s recent research into industry profit pools indicates that, on average, the industry is delivering value-creating solutions and consequently showing attractive profit growth. Between 2012 and 2016, total over-all healthcare industry profit pools grew at a faster rate than the combined figures of the top 1,000 US companies.

THE HEALTHCARE-TECH LANDSCAPE
The global healthcare services and technology market today consists of a wide range of companies that can be grouped into a select number of categories – business services, consulting, data, analytics and information and software platforms. Together, these categories had approximately $35 billion in profits in 2016 in US alone.

But keeping with trends it seems data, analytics, and information services, which includes reporting and benchmarking services, are likely to continue to have the fastest growth. McKinsey forecasts a CAGR in profits of 16% to 18% for this segment over the next five years, driven by increasing business demand for analytics services, both as a table-stakes capability and potential competitive advantage.

THE FUTURE LIES IN HEALTHCARE ANALYTICS
As these healthcare organizations keep developing more sophisticated big data analytics capabilities, they are beginning to move from basic descriptive analytics into the realm of much more insightful predictive insights. Instead of simply presenting information about past events to a user, predictive analytics can help hospitals estimate the likelihood of a future outcome based on patterns in the historical data.

This opens up the possibilities for clinicians, financial experts and administrative staff to receive alerts about potential events before they happen and therefore make more informed choices about how to proceed with a particular decision. The importance of being a step ahead of events can aid intensive care, surgery, or emergency care, where a patient’s life might depend on a quick reaction time and a finely-tuned sense of when something is going wrong.

However, as of now, very few high-value use cases for predictive analytics exist throughout the healthcare ecosystem and also may not always involve real-time alerts that require a team to immediately spring into action. Rather as a start organizations can apply predictive analytics tools to their financial, administrative and data security challenges to experience significant gains in efficiency and consumer satisfaction, but true potential of such predictive insights lies in execution of data to save lives in the following manners:

RISK SCORING FOR CHRONIC DISEASES
Prediction and prevention best applies in the world of population health management, as organizations that can identify individuals with elevated risks of developing chronic conditions as early in the disease’s progression as possible have the best chance of helping patients avoid long-term health problems which are costly and difficult to treat.
Using predictive analysis to create risk scores based on lab testing, biometric data, claims data, patient-generated health data and the social determinants of health can give healthcare providers insight into which individuals might benefit from enhanced services or wellness activities, in advance, saving patients huge costs in the long run.

MACHINE LEARNING TO COMBAT PATIENT DETERIORATION
During hospital stays, patients face a number of potential threats to their wellbeing, including the development of sepsis, the acquisition of a hard-to-treat infection, or a sudden downturn due to their existing clinical conditions.

Data analytics can help caregivers react quickly to changes in a patient’s vitals, and may be able to identify an upcoming deterioration before symptoms clearly manifest themselves to the naked eye.

Machine learning models are particularly suited to predicting clinical events in hospitals, such as the development of an acute kidney injury (AKI) or sepsis. A predictive analytics tool at the University of Pennsylvania, leveraging machine learning and EHR data helped to identify patients on track for severe sepsis or septic shock 12 hours before the onset of the condition, as explained by a 2017 study.

FORESTALLING APPOINTMENT NO-SHOWS
Unexpected gaps in the daily schedules can have financial ramifications for healthcare organizations while throwing off a clinician’s entire workflow.
Predictive analytics can be used to identify patients’ likeliness to skip an appointment without advanced notice which can improve provider satisfaction, reduce revenue losses and give organizations the opportunity to offer open slots to other patients, thereby increasing greater access to care and faster service delivery.
Hospitals may also be able to use this data to send additional reminders to patients at risk of failing to show up, offer additional services such as transportation to enable individuals to make their appointments or even suggest alternative settings and times that may better suit their needs.

PREDICTING HOSPITAL UTILIZATION PATTERNS
In addition to helping organizations get ahead of no-shows, predictive analytics can give providers a heads up as to when the clinic is about to get busy.

Hospitals that operate without fixed schedules, such as emergency departments and urgent care centers, need to vary their staffing levels to account for fluctuations in patient flow. Inpatient wards must have beds allocated for patients who need to be admitted, while outpatient clinics are responsible for keeping wait times low for patients.

Using analytics to predict such patterns in utilization can help to attain optimal staffing levels while reducing wait times and raising patient satisfaction. Visualization tools and analytics strategies can model patient flow patterns and highlight opportunities to make workflow adjustments or scheduling changes, to ensure better delivery.

MANAGING THE SUPPLY CHAIN
The supply chain is one of the business’s largest cost centers, and represents one of the most significant opportunities for healthcare institutions to trim unnecessary spending and improve efficiency. Predictive tools are in high demand among hospital executives looking to reduce variation in supply chain deliveries and gain more actionable insights into ordering patterns and supply utilization.

Cardinal Health in 2017 stated that only 17 percent of hospitals currently use automated or data-driven solutions to manage their supply chains. In the same year, Global Healthcare Exchange ranked predictive analytics for supply chain management as the number one item on the executive wish list.

USING DATA TO IMPROVE ENGAGEMENT & SATISFACTION
Apart from supporting chronic disease management strategies, cutting wait times, and attaining better utilization rates in cases for both hospitals and their supply chains, predictive analytics can keep patients engaged in other aspects of their care, as well.

Consumer relationship management has become a vital skill for both providers and payers, with health insurers promoting wellness and reducing long-term spending – and predicting patient behaviors is a key component of developing effective communications and adherence techniques.

Local health startups such as Praava Health is using its data analytics tools to create consumer profiles that allow the payer to send tailored messaging, improve customer retention and discover what strategies are most likely to be impactful for each individual. This study of behavioral patterns can go on to create meaningful care plans and keep patients engaged with their financial and clinical responsibilities, with greater focus on increasing efficiency, reducing costs and providing highest levels of customer satisfaction through use of big data.

 

Building Blocks of Future

Blockchain has been a fascinating technology for finance enthusiasts worldwide, having emerged in 2009 as the distributed, decentralized digital ledger underpinning the widely controversial cryptocurrency Bitcoin and recording transactions in an immutable way. It simply requires an individual, or a machine to register as a member of a blockchain, which can either be public, to then transact with other members registered to the blockchain.

Computers, or nodes, on the blockchain’s peer-to-peer network, verify each transaction, using the same consensus algorithm, to agree that each transaction is true and valid. Only the verified transactions are then added to other transactions to create a new block of data that is added to the existing chain of blocks, which creates a permanent data entry in the digital ledger.

This digital ledger is immutable, meaning no one can change it, and it is shared with all members at all times and, if the blockchain is public, anyone can become a member. From the time of the initial concept, automated code-based processes known as smart contracts have been created, which can interact with and update the data on the ledger without direct human intervention.

Using Blockchain to Cut Trade Costs
Despite the advancement in technology, modern commodity trading still relies heavily on manual, cross-checked, paper-based administrative tasks to process individual trades through settlement and delivery. But distributed ledger technologies like blockchain hold the potential to change the manual processes forever.

The question of whether blockchain will change the way corporations do business has already been answered by global giants such as British Petroleum (BP). BP is also a founding partner of London based consortium Vakt, which is developing a blockchain-based platform for post-trade processing that is intended to eliminate paper, improve efficiency and transform trade finance options. Currently, the consortium is focusing on oil to start with. Vakt’s ambition after its initial markets is to scale up and enter other markets, like Singapore, the rest of Asia, the Middle East and US natural gas.

Where can Blockchain Add Value
Blockchain is expected to impact the following avenues of trading process mostly if widely implemented:
Accessibility: Blockchain’s storing of data in an encrypted, digital distribution ledger means that the data can be accessed by every party in the blockchain.
Scalability: As enterprises grow, the blockchain employed can be scaled up or down based on the number of parties involved, without the need to increase any paperwork, thereby improving the system’s efficiency.

Digital verification: Blockchain allows the implementation of electronic know-your-customer (e-KYC) activities for the parties involved, which helps detect potential red flags.
Security: The use of cryptography and key-based encryption means it is impossible to tamper with the documents and contracts within the blockchain.

Ease of regulatory validation: Blockchain allows relevant regulators the access to verify processes at every step of the transaction.

Blockchain Enabling Prosumer Power
Remember the days when we could borrow a cup of sugar from our neighbor whenever required? Now imagine if we could buy or sell small amounts of sugar to our neighbor whenever the need arises. Such peer-to-peer micro-transactions may well be the future of exchanges in energy trading, enabled by blockchain. The global push to cut carbon has helped distributed energy resources like solar and wind to grow rapidly, reducing dependence on large-scale, fossil fuel power generation.

Environmentally conscious prosumers with smart meters, rooftop solar PV installations, backyard wind farms or battery storage placed within a smart technology-driven microgrid are emerging as the newest market players. Smart microgrids are scaled-down versions of a traditional power network but differ in their objectives. The microgrid is able to operate autonomously – off-grid – or in parallel to the larger network it connects to, creating a community energy system, similar to the traditional blockchain.

Such transactive energy systems look to integrate locally-sourced renewables more effectively, increase efficiency and grid reliability, cut carbon emissions and encourage end-user participation with smart energy meters and apps.

In principle, microgrids have the potential to disrupt utilities’ traditional business model for supplying small end-users, which is often based on static pricing with infrequent billing. They also change the environment for the existing distribution system operators, who manage the physical flows to the end-user.

Singapore has emerged as a strategic base for digital startups in Asia, and several of these are developing blockchain platforms popularly for energy and commodity businesses.

Singapore – The Strategic Leader in Trading Blockchain
Digital startups see opportunity in Singapore’s position as the largest trading hub in Asia as well as the lack of digitization in physical commodities trading, a business that has not changed in decades, as some shippers still fax bills of lading to each other.

When Singapore decided to deregulate its power sector and introduce electricity trading on its stock exchange, it was one of the first countries in Asia to do so. Most other Asian countries still operate government-controlled power utilities and grids.

Businesses in Singapore can already pick their source of electricity supply from a laundry list of retailers, and, by the end of 2018, small consumers like households will also be able to do so.
The problem is that there is no common platform where this can be done. But Electrify, a local startup which uses Blockchain, raised $30 million through initial coin offerings to create an online marketplace for buying electricity, and executing the trade through smart contracts.

Electrify’s blockchain platform for small-scale peer-to-peer power trading is called Synergy. Using blockchain introduces security and transparency, automates the contracting and settlement process, and cuts transaction times and service costs by as much as 30% according to the company’s CEO.

Blockchain’s Reality Check
Probably the biggest challenge facing all industry-level blockchain trading projects is simply achieving the critical mass of participation needed to make using a new system commercially viable. Companies that already have procedures in place – however inefficient – will not save money if they start using parallel systems, and yet they are unlikely to commit large volumes to a new system until they are confident it works and enough of their counterparties are on it. Without critical mass, costs per transaction will be higher and efficiency gains limited.

Another risk identified by European power industry association Eurelectric is that a blockchain’s security remains unproven until it is big enough to be worth trying to hack. So while scaling up improves the efficiency and viability of a project, it may also increase its risk of attack. Similarly, a key concern lies in the privacy of the data involved. Most, if not all, of the commodity blockchains being trialed, are private, permissioned distributed ledgers. Participants on these blockchain’s need permission to join, typically from the consortium or companies that set them up.

This makes sense in an industry where competitive advantage often lies in being able to exploit price arbitrages over product specifications, location and time. Corporations don’t want your suppliers or buyers, let alone their competitors, to have access to transaction data that can be used to uncover their trading strategies.

But while a big part of the blockchain mantra is that it is a secure system, companies may need a lot of reassurance before transferring their confidential trade data on to a blockchain platform in viably large quantities, to perhaps allow the platform to reach its full potential.

Today, about 10 million Bangladeshis are living abroad as migrants. Out of this, over 2.4 million Bangladeshis permanently live abroad either as citizens or with other valid documents in as many as 162 countries across the world. These permanent migrants living in different continents and countries are known as the ‘Bangladesh diaspora’ and have immense potential to make substantial contributions to Bangladesh’s development regarding sharing their skills, expertise, technology, and knowledge.

Mostly living in the industrial countries including but not limited to the UK, the US, Italy, Japan, Australia, Greece, Canada, Spain, Germany, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, these people make up the ever-growing Bangladesh diaspora. While reasons for their departure varies – jobs, education, improved standard of living, etc. – individuals within the diaspora communities maintain a particular affinity with Bangladesh having a desire to continue a connection, culturally, socially or economically, to their country of origin.
With this affinity comes an interest in matters related to the development of their homeland, be it the social and economic well-being of remaining friends and family members, humanitarian concerns, business interest, professional aspirations, or even a desire to return ‘home’ someday. But collectively or individually, if this interest is converted into engagement, the diaspora community can use their financial, time and intellectual resources to help reduce poverty, contribute to the expansion of the private sector, and enhance global competitiveness and overall development of the country.

Diaspora engagement is viewed as when the government of a given country increasingly recognizes the value that diaspora population brings to the development efforts and seeks ways to magnify the human capital and financial resources that emigrants and their descendants contribute to development in their country of origin. However, in Bangladesh, no such mechanism for recognition exists, and engagement is often limited to transfer of remittances only. This arrangement needs to go beyond and convert NRBs to direct investors in critical and emerging industries, generous philanthropy, and in the development of human capital and sharing and transfer of knowledge from the countries of residence to the country of origin in various ways.

Learning from Other Developing Nations
Regarding creating engagement, Bangladesh has a lot to learn from numerous other developing nations. Lebanon, for example, has a dedicated crowdfunding platform towards their diaspora, which raises contributions for social causes such as water and sanitation, building schools, etc. and have goodwill ambassadors to carry out the effectiveness. The African diaspora has contributed over $10 billion for philanthropic contributions. For India, the brain drain has now converted back into brain gain, with over 4,000 professors and 35,000 doctors returning to the economy and contributing. The Indian government’s initiative for involving NRIs in SME investment is also playing a huge role. And in China, about 70% of its entire Foreign Direct Investment is owned by its diaspora.

Another notable example is of Iraq, where an organization named Iraqis Rebuilding Iraq worked with Iraqi expatriates in rebuilding post-war Iraq, which again shows that non-residents never lose their connections with their nations. However, the bed stone of diaspora engagement lies in gaining the trust of the diaspora community first. The government needs to generate a sense of belief or perception that it values the diaspora’s contribution, wants them to contribute further, and a transparent and accountable mechanism would be followed in transforming their contribution into national development efforts.

The PIE Framework
A recent government study in association with A2i largely categorized the contributions and efforts for NRBs into three groups – philanthropy for community development, investment for economic and industrial growth, and expert engagement for knowledge and skill development. This categorization has been defined as the PIE framework and is being used to explain briefly how different countries have prospered using diaspora engagement.
Based on the learnings from international experiences, an effort is being taken by the government to design an institutional framework that would implement the PIE approach in Bangladesh. The model’s ultimate aim is to attach a return with each of the three avenues of diaspora contribution and encourage further engagement by promoting philanthropy with recognition, an investment with reward, and expert affiliation with remuneration.

A recent government study in association with A2i largely categorized the contributions and efforts for NRBs into three groups – philanthropy for community development, investment for economic and industrial growth, and expert engagement for knowledge and skill development. 

Hindrance from Policy and Institutional Challenges
Despite government attempts at integrating the diaspora population into national development, multiple base-level issues exist which need to be addressed before any other strategy implement, with the most significant problem being the absence of an online database that contains information of these long-term migrants. The difficulty of collecting data from and engaging permanent migrants who do not have legal stay permit in their country of residence further cripples the process.
A policy-wise absence of clear provisions relating to diaspora engagement may become a key challenge as the existing policy provisions do not address the proposed PIE approach. The success of the model requires different ministries to get involved in new activities which may not always fall within their jurisdiction. Moreover, inter-ministerial coordination on a continuous basis also poses obstacles. The promotion of NRB philanthropy would also require the creation of special accounts to receive such funds from individuals and associations, which all government agencies cannot do without explicit mandates.

The Proposed Way Forward
The study proposes an immediate urge for a national initiative with substantial government ownership to develop an online database of the international diaspora community with the affiliation of embassies, missions, and consulates. Moreover, expatriates have been known to face a variety of security-related issues such as mistreatment, harassment, and safety upon visiting Bangladesh, and insecurity of properties and local investments; problems which need to be addressed as early as possible.
The government must also deploy measures to acknowledge the contribution of the NRBs, to honor successful NRBs in different areas. Foreign Missions of Bangladesh are also suggested to set up dedicated diaspora engagement cells with immediate effect to deal with relevant affairs and act as a primary touch-point for NRB integration.
An environment of trust and confidence is crucial to ensure the success of government’s initiatives to involve NRBs in national development. Implementation of the PIE framework can act as an initial confidence-building measure to encourage the diaspora, and over the long-run build monitoring mechanisms to emit useful feedback and reviews of progress back to the NRBs to keep them updated and involved throughout the entire development journey.

The northern region of Bangladesh accounts for over one-third of all the rice produced in Bangladesh, but the current cultivating season faces a tragic scene as continuous cold waves in the months of November and December has caused a sudden and significant drop in the temperature, resulting in the parish of young rice plants which would have been used to grow the season’s Boro paddies. In most cases, the plants did not attain their natural growth as the planting season passed by. Collecting seeds and growing new plants have caused the rice farmers to fall behind on schedule by 15-30 days. This delay is feared to have a significant impact during the rice harvesting season, the ideal time of which is right before the monsoon. This setback might lead to the flooding of paddy fields from incessant rainfall and destruction of the rice plants, similar to the prior experiences of the northern region and Sylhet in 2017.

Bilkumari is one of the largest wetlands of the Varendra region in Rajshahi. The wetland is used as paddy fields for half the year, while the other half is used for aquaculture. The land completely disappears under water, becoming one with the river during the monsoon season.

Boro plantings are grown in the wide pasture of river Padma, flowing along the city of Rajshahi. The rice plants by this time have grown up to a height of only 1.5 inches, instead of their ideal height of 6-7 inches.

The Hardinge Bridge has overseen the Ishwardi river on the Padma for over a century and has found a company in the Lalon Shah Bridge being established in 2004. Generations have gone by with the introduction of better infrastructure, but our farming practices are still frozen in time, using century old techniques.

Rice farmer Dulal (50) of Pabna waters his seed beds along the borderline pastures of the river Padma in Kushtia. Much of his young rice plants have developed a reddish-yellow hue, instead of the usual lush green, as a result of the persisting cold weather and fog. 

The photos have been taken across Rajshahi, Pabna, and the northern regions of Bangladesh.

Photographs by Din Muhammad Shibly & Md Soliman

THE ECONOMICS OF CONGESTION
Traffic congestion and inadequate urban road planning are two of the most challenging issues that are hindering growth and development in the urban economy; the capital city is just 7% road. ICE Business Times recently conversed with Dr. Md. Shamsul Hoque, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), to gather insights on the issue and discuss possible solutions to improving urban transport in Dhaka.

A recent study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), before the 2015 Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka revealed that the economy loses $11.4 billion a year, resulting from traffic congestion, which roughly translates to Tk. 250 crore a day. The loss occurs mainly from the extra value of travel time and additional vehicle operating cost regarding fuel and maintenance, as a result of the stagnancy. Moreover, there lies a significant amount of other intangible costs which cannot be quantified, regardless of which, a huge economic implication arises from traffic congestion as the value of loss equals to almost 5% of the national GDP.
If we further consider studies such as the Dhaka Integrated Transport Study (DITA) in 1994, the proposed 20-year Transport Plan in 2005, the Dhaka Urban Transport Study (DUTS) JICA in 2010, and the 2015 STP, we can observe the magnitude to which traffic congestion has impacted our lives. The average travel time at peak hours in the city has dropped from nearly 27 kph in 1994 to a mere 6.4 kph in 2015. Situations are worsening to such an extent that we are losing speed and rhythm of traffic, heading towards a standstill condition. With ever-growing car ownership coupled with an increasing number of motorcycles as a means of beating the congestion, it seems the rise in the number of vehicles as the economy progresses will soon bring average vehicle travel speeds down to walking speeds.

PAVING THE WAY: A GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE
Dr. Md. Shamsul Hoque is very well researched in the government’s investment in capital-intensive projects. He has gone through numerous studies conducted by world-renowned academicians and professionals, some of which spanned over periods of 1-3 years. Hoque concludes that almost all the studies propose overlapping recommendations in the form of infrastructural development, institutional reform, capacity build-up, and public transport planning, with proper integration amongst all of them. But what has happened in reality is a project-based approach by the government where planning flaws occur in the manner that multiple projects are focused on solving the same issue without any precursory study. Whereas, integration can lead to the reduction in unnecessary project count.

The government has taken multiple infrastructural initiatives, such as the seven flyovers, which are all but integrated and not pro-people, instead are counterproductive as they reduce road size. While the government might feel proud of these capital-intensive projects, these do not have any tangible contribution to the economy with no improvement in economic indicators as the average speed continuously keeps dropping despite such projects. Such initiatives are uncoordinated and unguided, and no one takes ownership of the precursory studies which are highly significant. Moreover, lack of term based scenario analysis projects focusing on public transport, and furthermore institutional or regulatory reforms are worsening conditions every day.

A SYSTEMATIC BUS TRANSPORT SEGMENT
Public transport has been defined in the 2005 STP; it is made up of ordinary buses, rapid transit buses, and fast transit rail, in that particular hierarchy. This suggests that the backbone for public transport for Dhaka should be the regular bus system. But as of now, the segment is in turmoil with fragmented ownership, unhealthy competition, contribution to bottleneck congestion, and significant creation of road indiscipline.

Creation of multiple unnecessary bus routes resulting from political patronization is significantly harming the urban traffic system. Route rationalization must come up as the main agenda to fix the public transport system. Overlapping of bus routes with fierce competition between service providers needs to be resolved with policies such as bus route franchising, by not allowing multiple competitors to operate along a single corridor.

Citizens have shifted from bus to car, primarily because of the comfort, better environment, and the lack of discipline in the public transport segment. Currently, the ordinary bus segment provides no incentive to the car-driven population to shift back to buses due to its poor infrastructure. However, developing improved services, fixing bus routes, fragmented ownership, and maintaining discipline in the system can lead to a minimum number of buses serving a maximum number of people.

Reliability and speed can be ensured with dedicated bus lanes, which is a general practice in most developed cities of the world, with bus rides providing minute-accuracy to the riders, incentivizing them to switch back to public transport. The eccentric demand of peak hours must be solved by public transportation, with a primary focus on ordinary buses. Directly shifting to rapid transit projects might not be effective, as despite implementation of five Bus Rapid Transit and two Mass Rail Transit lines by 2035 will only move 17% of all trips in the city, with 40% still being catered by ordinary buses as per experts. Hence leaping over to capital-intensive projects such as the MRT might not be the best possible solution.

INCLUSIVE AND SUSTAINABLE PEDESTRIAN STRATEGIES
The second target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 demands provision of sustainable transport to all and inclusive development should have some attributes which can accommodate all road users including the physically challenged. However, hardly any of the road planning initiatives are aligned with such inclusiveness; even the pedestrian walkways are not developed. Walkways should be meant for pedestrians and be on the same continuous level, whereas in Dhaka most walkways are constructed addressing the road adjacent property driveways, rising and dropping now and then, prioritizing the property developers over the pedestrians. Quality and maintenance of walkways in Dhaka are certainly improving, but they do not duly recognize all pedestrians, particularly the physically challenged and ones in wheelchairs.

Moreover, road crossing policies are also misaligned with the construction of foot overbridges at intersections, following an outdated concept, where priority was given to vehicles, whereas the global standard has shifted to prioritizing the pedestrians now by stopping vehicles. Road crossing should have inclusive designs and universal acceptability, instead of ignorant construction of foot overbridges at junctions, with no proper implementation of traffic signals. Without fixing the signal system, Dhaka is focused more on constructing overbridges, which is not sustainable in the long run. Additionally, once construction is completed, nobody takes the ownership of maintaining the usability of such foot overbridges, as each become hotspots of shady obnoxious activities. No modern city constructs such overbridges at junctions. Instead, cities in China, Japan, and South Korea halt traffic for 1-2 minutes at high-intensity junctions and allow pedestrians to pass quickly and diagonally.

THE CURB OF URBAN ACCIDENTS
One of the surprising by-products of traffic congestion in Dhaka has been the significant decrease in urban accident counts. The number of accidents is directly correlated with average travel speeds, and with falling speeds, fatality from accidents in Dhaka is also decreasing significantly. Trends have shifted from speed-related accidents to hit and smash related ones, most of which are conducted by commercial vehicles trying to break the signal and speeding, resulting in hitting other vehicles, hardly causing any fatality but rather more congestion. Previously 10% of all road fatalities recorded nationally were in Dhaka, but over the decade this has halved as a by-product of congestion.

PATRONIZING TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE IN INSTITUTIONAL REFORM
With no impending institutional reform, urban transport planning in Dhaka has adopted a project-centric approach which is highly inefficient and hardly effective. Some infrastructural development projects are still in the pipeline, all of which need to show a significant contribution to the economy. To achieve whatever was proposed in the STP, a practice of systematic implementation needs to be adopted with attention not on projects but on fixing the overall system.

Studies continuously suggest the change of the bureaucratic system in urban planning and improvement in flatter organograms to include more personnel with greater technical knowledge into the decision-making framework. The government also needs to take the responsibility and show tenacity in changing its human resource and patronize its compatibility to the 21st century. Continuing to maintain a bureaucratic non-technical system may introduce many more projects, but will provide no improvement for congestion.

APPLICATION OF TECHNOLOGY IN PREDICTING TRAFFIC
Western homogeneous lane-based traffic is entirely different from Dhaka’s heterogeneous non-lane-based transport system, which makes it difficult to implement simple technology models to understand traffic behavior in the city. Predicting urban traffic is difficult, but the prediction for modeling or assistance purposes can be achieved by implementing simple Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Neuro-Fuzzy Systems. This software programs can predict the vehicle traffic flow and be applied to improve road traffic scenario and assist in future urban road planning and policy making. Nevertheless, experts believe that the existing environment is highly unsuitable for such implementations as indiscipline in the traffic system will negate the benefits which such systems have to offer.

SOLUTION IN ONE UNITARY AUTHORITY
The experts of traffic congestion and urban transport planning, such as Dr. Md. Shamsul Hoque, believe a single unitary authority who takes responsibility for planning, designing and constructing development, as well as ensuring operational maintenance is the most suitable solution for metropolitans like Dhaka. Introducing an authority, elected by the citizens, will ensure a check and balance system, and eliminate the overlapping authorities and their independent projects which are often contradicting in goals with one another.
Dhaka direly requires an independent, accountable authority, much like those in cities such as Tokyo and Delhi. Instead, the capital’s current policy of dividing it into two authorities, whereas traffic itself is a linear process, adds another dimension to this already chaotic predicament, with the different metropolitan authorities having colliding attitudes.

To make a city like Dhaka livable, it is undeniable that primary focus must be towards pedestrians and public transport; instead, we have policies promoting car ownership, which is detrimental to overall progress. Capital-intensive projects such as flyovers are unsustainable solutions and should be built at peripheries and not in the heart of the city. Finally, whatever projects are undertaken should prioritize pedestrian and public transport above anything else.

For some years now, Bangladesh has been the second largest apparel producer in the world after China. Despite a slow growth rate in the latest fiscal year, the RMG sector exported apparels worth $28.15 billion in the just-concluded fiscal year. Despite international backlashes following safety and work hazards, the industry has continued to churn out clothes in massive amounts, being exported to and worn by people all across the western world, which begs us to think, where do these clothes ultimately end up at the demise of their life cycle?

The Wasteful West: A Culture of Squandering Clothes
The western world’s ever-growing desire for fast and disposable fashion which is fuelled by the ready supply of affordable manufactured products from countries such as China, Bangladesh, and India, means the global population is consuming and disposing of an ever more significant quantity of garments annually.
This growth surprisingly is also being fueled by charities and recycling companies, who channel these old clothes to new owners for reuse.
The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap), a UK government and EU-backed agency tasked with reducing waste, estimates that almost half of the garments people in the west now throw out end up going to a new home rather than ending up in a landfill or at an incineration plant.
Most would believe that diverting old clothes away from landfills and giving it a new purpose is a responsible practice. However, Dr. Andrew Brooks, a lecturer in development geography at King’s College London, argues that most donors do not realize that the majority of the clothing they are giving away to charity will be traded abroad for profit.
Wrap estimates that more than 70% of all the UK’s reused clothing heads overseas – joining a global second-hand trade in which billions of old garments are bought and sold around the world every year.
According to the latest available UN figures, the UK is the second largest exporter of used clothing after the US. It exported more than $600 million, or 351,000 tons, worth of discarded fashion overseas in 2013. Top destinations were Poland, Ghana, Pakistan, and Ukraine, whereas the US’s key trade partners were Canada, Chile, Guatemala, and India.
According to another recent report from Wrap, the average piece of clothing in the UK lasts for 3.3 years before being discarded. Other research puts the lifespan of UK garments at 2.2 years, which can probably be halved for younger demographics. But as fashion companies tell their buyers to remember that a dress will stay in their wardrobe for only five weeks, it can be expected that this discarding phenomenon will only grow further, with ever-changing consumer behaviors.
The way people get dressed now has virtually nothing in common with the behavior of previous generations, for whom 1 garment could be worn for decades. Wrap estimates that people in the UK purchased 1.13 million tons of new clothing last year. Another survey commissioned by Sainsbury’s found that 235 million clothing items ended up in landfill sites as people readied their wardrobes for summer.

Ever-changing Apparel: In One Season, Dismissed the Next
The global fashion industry has developed a pretty controversial reputation for its exploitation of human capital and outsourcing production to the world’s lowest-wage economies, i.e., the South-Asian nations. The 1,133 garment workers who were killed in Dhaka, half a decade back, worried global manufacturers about what was next.
For those in and around the fashion and apparel industry, the control of garment waste has long been considered to be the next big scandal. Globally, levels of production and consumption are forecasted to increase as fashion waste becomes the next environmental crisis, rivaling plastic pollution in oceans. This trend is the consequence of over-production and supply, powered by the relentless “fast fashion” system of production that over the past three decades has revolutionized both the way we dress and the way clothing is produced.
Much of the waste surrounding the fashion industry is hidden along a chaotic supply chain and does not consider the negative externalities being generated and make it into the environmental accounting that underpins a Wrap report. Perhaps the worst of it comes in the form of readymade garments, assembled and sewn but discarded because of an order mistake or an issue with the color. According to industry insiders, this waste represents 3-5% of every factory’s inventory, and a large factory in Dhaka can produce around 240 million pieces a year.
There is no verified figure for the amount of clothing produced each year globally, predominantly in low-wage textile hotspots like Dhaka, which has little to no waste management systems. Mostly, the waste is nowhere to be seen, where it becomes highly visible is on the outskirts of large production areas, such as the garment districts of Dhaka. This is where the production waste leaves the factories and is absorbed by the air and earth in the local community. Waste from the cutting rooms, called jhut, often ends up in so-called go-downs. These makeshift sorting operations are the stuff of legend in Dhaka, with fires often being a regular occurrence.

Is Fast Fashion the Problem?
As the global fast-fashion booms, a YouGov report found that 75% of adults in Australia alone have thrown clothes away in the past year, with 30% having tossed more than 10 garments. This throwaway culture is creating a severe environmental problem, with 24% saying they threw out a garment after one wear. 1 in 6 people binned at least 3 garments they had worn only once.
The report also showed a generational divide in attitudes towards clothing. Millennials enjoy buying new clothes, with almost 1 in 4 saying they had purchased at least half the clothes they own in the past year. They are also more likely to throw out their clothes within 2 years.
Online fashion shopping is also part of the problem. An Australia Post report showed 22% of online purchases were fashion items, with significant growth for 3 years running. Australian households received an average of 3.2 parcels of fashion items in 2016. So, this greater convenience in purchasing is also speeding up the binning process. The increasingly disposable nature of fashion is causing enormous problems for the environment, with more than 500,000 tons of textiles and leather sent to landfill in Australia alone.
But there are ways to fix the problem as well. Retailers could do better, such as offering more take-back schemes. The Swedish fashion brand H&M encourages customers to return all unwanted garments, which can be sold on as secondhand items, converted into other products or turned into textile fibers. Similarly, the outdoor wear company Patagonia offers free repairs and recycling to all customers. Hence, there is a role for brands to recognize that their responsibility does not stop at the till.

One Man’s Waste Another Man’s Treasure: The Potential $4 Billion Industry
Despite growing consumptions leading to greater castoffs, garment waste management exemplifies the idea of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. The local garments industry itself produces recyclable scraps, which if tapped correctly, can generate a further $4 billion annually.
The idea is to turn the accumulated scraps into materials which are greatly demanded in the fashion world. By doing this, both business growth and addressing of climate change – can be harmoniously intersected in each other’s paths.
In a recent study, Reverse Resources, an Estonia-based software company trying to develop an online marketplace for garment waste for ensuring its maximum utilization and better value, showed that the total volume of annual leftovers from the county’s garment units is around 400,000 tons. Whereas, if these leftovers are recycled for making new yarns and used in re-manufacturing garments, it has the potential to generate business of more than $4 billion.
As per the findings of the study, more than 25% of resources are discarded in fabric and garment factories, which can go up to 47% in some cases. Even if the country’s 4,500 active garment units gain efficiency and ensure optimum use of fabrics, there will be an unavoidable amount of waste at different stages of production. Using waste from one cycle of production in the next through remanufacturing involves practical challenges but recycling it surely has a business potential within the country’s garment sector.
While dreams of $4 billion industry can be taken with a grain of salt, the environmental concerns surrounding apparel waste is not something to be overlooked. Fast-fashion, being fuelled by changing consumer behaviors, is undoubtedly here to stay. Nevertheless, both producers and consumers need to find sustainable ways to reduce the environmental impacts. Finally, shoppers must also consider whether to snap up the next best deal or wait it out, so that the hardly worn piece of clothing lying in their wardrobe, doesn’t meet an early demise at a local landfill.

The Economic Relations Division (ERD) under the Ministry of Finance, in cooperation with UNDP recently organized an International Seminar on ‘NRB (Non-Resident Bangladeshi) Engagement in National Development: Strategies and Way Forward’ under the ministry’s Knowledge for Development (K4DM) Project. The one-day event had a paper presentation on current NRB scenario and three working sessions on engaging NRBs through philanthropy, investment, and expert affiliation. The seminar was attended by numerous government officials and expatriates and took place at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC). 

Changing Patterns of Bangladeshi Diaspora
We have a diaspora community ranging from the figures of 8 to 10 million in numerous countries across global and their contribution to the economy of Bangladesh has always been noteworthy. Previously, the United Kingdom boasted the largest number of Bangladeshi non-residents, but the figures are changing fast. Today, Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Bangladeshi expatriates, with Malaysia having the second largest, whereas the UK, and US are further down the list.

Engaging the Population Abroad
I believe annual conferences are critical in engaging the expatriates. The frequency of such events need to be increased, and such conferences do not necessarily have to be organized in Bangladesh alone, perhaps organizing them abroad can have greater effectiveness as well. The government and the Ministry of Finance, in particular, is working towards creating incentives for expatriates to invest in the Bangladeshi economy. Mechanisms of recognition already exist, but these need to be developed further. We are also working towards engaging the expatriates in the national election. They have always had their voting rights, and a good number do register for the voting process, but to date, no initiative has been taken to provide voting facilities in their country of residence. However, in the upcoming election, we hope to set up a few voting centers in North America, the UK and other parts of Europe, as well as the middle-east, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia more prominently. 

Engaging the Huge Pool of NRBs in India
It has always been easier for me to work with expatriates, as I am one myself, only residing from the other side of the border, and this allows me to recognize the feeling that an expatriate never loses their touch with their motherland despite the number of years they have lived or worked abroad. While working in Iraq, I became familiar with an organization named Iraqis Rebuilding Iraq, which worked with Iraqi expatriates in rebuilding post-war Iraq, which again shows that we as non-residents never lose our connections with our nations. For Bangladesh, perhaps the largest number of non-residents just live across the border in India, and there’s a 90% chance that if you see a successful Bengali, they originate from this side of Bengal. Economist Amartya Sen is a prime example, and one should never underestimate the love these people have for Bangladeshi and their abilities to contribute to the country.

On a Policy Level: How NRBs Can Drive Change
Bangladeshi NRBs are doing well to the extent that they have made it to numerous policy-making level positions in many countries. In the recently concluded Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly and Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka, I had the opportunity of meeting Bengalis holding posts of MPs from Canada and the UK. These are Bangladeshis influencing policies and opinions in other nations, and now is the perfect time to engage with such people and drive economic growth through the diaspora community. 

Engaging NRBs
The current generation of NRBs or diaspora as we like to call them are all economically well-established in their current resident nations. We need to engage them as they will be able to help us develop the trajectory of development for Bangladesh by pushing the curve upwards further. NRBs are already contributing back to the nation in various forms, as a USAID research shows that an average Bangladeshi diaspora adds about $4,000 in philanthropic contributions to Bangladesh.

Lesson Learned: Taking the Best Practices from Other Nations
Bangladesh has a lot to learn from numerous other developing nations. Lebanon, for example, has a dedicated crowdfunding platform towards their diaspora, which raises contributions for social causes such as water and sanitation, building schools, etc. and have goodwill ambassadors to carry out the effectiveness. The African diaspora has contributed over $10 billion for philanthropic contributions. For India, the brain drain has now converted back into brain gain, with over 4,000 professors and 35,000 doctors returning to the economy and contributing. The Indian government’s initiative for involving NRIs in SME investment is also playing a huge role. And in China, about 70% of its entire Foreign Direct Investment is owned by its diaspora.

A Better Bangladesh: Ensuring a Prosperous Future
The questions that need to be asked now are where will the diaspora engage, and once the first engagement is done, how to make it sustainable. Will a one-stop-shop be a suitable solution? These are questions that need answers through engagement, and we at the same time are working on increasing NRB engagement through three avenues – philanthropy with recognition, an investment with reward, and expert affiliation with remuneration.

Creating Better Opportunities Overseas
The Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare & Overseas Employment was developed to help migrant workers overseas and to monitor their welfare, but the ministry is now working towards developing programs dedicated towards expatriates under the Welfare wing. The ministry’s current objectives include the welfare of expatriates and job creation of overseas workers. They are working towards multiple research projects as to how more and better jobs can be made available to our migrant workers.

Supporting NRBs at the Home Stretch
I had the opportunity of meeting an expatriate, having resided in the US for 25 years, returning to Bangladesh to establish a hotel in Rajshahi. Upon our conversation, it was pleasing to know that he faced no harassment or challenges in setting up his business, something which expatriates often fear while investing in Bangladesh. The ministry is always ready to help the expatriates in their queries regarding receiving knowledge and assistance. We also have three dedicated Probashi Kallyan help desks at three international airports across the country. The ministry also acts in providing CIP recognition to expatriates for their contributions in sending remittance, importing Bangladeshi goods and investing in the economy, something which we believe is extremely important in further increasing NRB engagement. 

The Global Bangladeshi Population
It is perceived that about 10 million Bangladeshis are living abroad of which approximately 2.4 million Bangladeshis are living abroad permanently either as citizens or with other valid documents in as many as 162 countries. While reasons for their departure vary, the individuals within the diaspora communities maintain a particular affinity with Bangladesh and a desire to maintain a connection and ultimately be able to contribute back to Bangladesh. This massive Bangladeshi diaspora is growing and engaging them in a well-coordinated, concerted and effective way would allow them to contribute while bolstering the developmental efforts of the country as well.

Challenges Restricting NRB Engagement
Numerous policy and institutional level challenges exist, which are hindering increased diaspora engagement, starting with the absence of an online database that contains information on long-term migrants. The difficulty also lies in collecting data from and engaging permanent migrants who do not have legal stay permits in their country of residence. Also, there are no clear policy provision relating to diaspora engagement means that involving the members of the diaspora and keeping them interested at all times in every step of the national initiative would be a critical challenge which is easier said than done.

Government’s Commitment towards Bridging the Gap
A national initiative has to be taken with a strong government ownership to start increasing NRB engagement. With the help of Embassies, Missions, and Consulates, the Government of Bangladesh should immediately start taking necessary initiatives to develop a database of the international diaspora community. Issues of expatriates facing mistreatment, harassment and demands of illegal gratification by officials at the country’s entry points and insecurity of properties and local investments are also major issues that must be addressed. In general, a culture and platform of confidence need to be established to start having greater NRB engagement towards the development of the nation.

As Bangladesh strives for the middle-income nation status by 2021, its drive towards industrialization is estimated to induce exponential growth in multiple industrial sectors throughout the nation. Industries closely linked with construction and infrastructural development are anticipated to benefit most from this goal set by the government. With increasing growth also comes the need for higher power consumption and the domestic cable industry is looking forward to catering the entirety of this expected demand locally. However, the question stands, how well-equipped is the local cable industry to meet up to such expectations and deliver regarding capacity, product safety, and quality?

The government aims to ensure electricity to the whole population by 2021 by generating 24,000MW of it and installing 12,000 circuit kilometers of the transmission line, the same report indicates.

Government Aims, Stimulating Growth
Power generation capacity in Bangladesh has increased from 5,245MW to 15,379MW in February 2017 of the fiscal year of 2005-06. According to the Bangladesh Economic Review (BER) 2017 published by the finance ministry, electricity transmission has also expanded to 10,376 circuit kilometers as of February this year. All these are part of the government’s plan to provide electricity to the entire population by 2021.
Progress has already been achieved, as only 10–15% of the population had access to electricity when local cable giant BRB began its journey in 1978. Now, 80% of the 16 crore population have access to power, including renewable energy, according to BER 2017. The government aims to ensure electricity to the whole population by 2021 by generating 24,000MW of it and installing 12,000 circuit kilometers of the transmission line, the same report indicates. Operators expect that this expansion will buoy the demand not only for power cables but also for domestic cables.

New Entrants Inducing Local Competition
While an accurate industry growth rate could not be determined, according to numerous industry executives, demand for cable in Bangladesh is growing up to 20-25% a year. Almost a decade ago, the market value was worth at BDT 1,500–2,000 crores when the country had about 5,000MW of electricity generation capacity. However, the increase in constructions and development of industries has facilitated growth, and the buoyancy of demand has raised the industry’s worth to Tk. 4,000–5,000 crores, which is only expected to expand further in the coming decade.
In the 1970s, a few firms, including state-run Eastern Cables Ltd, were engaged in cable manufacturing. Later, more manufacturers such as BRB Cable Industries Ltd and Paradise Cables Ltd (PCL) made their way into the cable industry to secure a slice of the growing market.
In recent years, more popular local industrial groups such as Partex Cables Ltd, a subsidiary of Partex Group hit the market. Among others, BBS Cables and RFL Electronics, a concern of PRAN-RFL Group, and entered the market in 2009 and 2012, respectively. Such increasing entry of local manufacturers has facilitated the industry to become self-sufficient and reduce import dependence, as industry experts say that almost all of the cable demand is now being met locally.
Currently, there are around 120 local cable manufacturers, serving the domestic demand. This amount is expected to grow further as still, only one-third of the population of Bangladesh lives in urban areas. According to World Urbanization Prospects 2014 released by the United Nations, the urban population has grown by 2.4% annually between 2010 and 2015. The UN also stated that the urban population is predicted to rise to a mammoth 11.24 crore by 2050 from 5.31 crore in 2014, and the high-rise buildings will replace today’s small buildings, while concrete houses will replace tin-shed dwellings. All these will require more significant capacity expansion in the domestic market, which is likely be fulfilled by more new entrants into this already growing industry in future.

Greatest Concern Over Safety
The cable sector has to rely heavily on the international market for raw materials, mainly copper and aluminum. Manufacturers also have to buy raw materials to make insulators. Due to lack of quality control and government level regulatory checks, it is often difficult to determine the quality of the raw materials and processes that go into forming these final products. We, as consumers, are very little aware of the devastating consequences a faulty cable can have. We are also barely aware of the quality of cable products that we use in everyday life.
The significance of certification by international cable certification bodies in ensuring the product quality of a cable manufacturer is often overlooked throughout the industry. The lack of interest in maintaining standards sets aside the fact that certification is a continuous process and not just a single-time approval. A certified company is required to follow a rigorous quality control system in its production line regularly in every single phase of the manufacturing process, starting from the source of raw material to production process. Besides, the post-production quality control mechanism and even the human resource management are needed to go through such measures.
When it comes to manufacturing different types of cable products, technical expertise varies from product to product. We can mention about power cable or industrial cable that requires a production technique and raw materials superior to that of domestic cables, something which is not always the case for Bangladesh. The issue lies in the lack of monitoring from the government side in this regard. Furthermore, a government agenda to set specific criteria as to who can produce what kind of cable products can solve the issue and ensure the safety of the end consumers.
It’s also noteworthy that due to the lack of regulation, many companies don’t pay much attention to ensure the quality of their products and try to keep their price margin low. It creates unfair competition in the cable market which ultimately affects the quality producers as this demands increased expenditure. However, a higher price is placed on the final consumers, as they end up prioritizing price over quality.
Most recorded short circuits and fire breakouts occur due to the lower quality of cables installed. In many cases, industries use domestic cables, which significantly risks the safety of the institution and its workers. Cable manufacturers urge that the government should take actions to control the use of domestic cable in factories. The industry owners should also be made aware of the severity of the issue and the risks involved. The cable industry and the government should both invest in creating mass awareness about cable-related safety issues.
Proposed Government Policies to standardize the industrywide regulation in the cable sector to ensure standardized quality is perhaps the most urged of all the issues that need to be solved by the industry leaders. Many cable manufacturers are indiscriminately using contaminated scrap copper as the primary raw material for cable production. Scrap copper comes from shipbreaking yards and is contaminated by solder, iron, aluminum, etc. As a result, their resistance property fails to meet the relevant international standards. The cables manufactured with these conductors get overheated above a particular load, and damage the insulation and cause short circuits often resulting in loss of lives and property.
Forbidding of domestic cables in industrial processes should be implemented as soon as possible to ensure employee safety. Other changes such as the government promoting the use of XLPE insulation instead of PVC insulation, which will provide safety as well as reduce carbon emission from cable products. For the conductors, increased use of aluminum cable instead of copper is also a recommended proposal, as it costs one-fourth of the price of copper and is of the same quality.
Owners also urge the government to rethink its current policy of requiring a minimum of five years’ manufacturing experience before entering the cable sector. The government should instead focus on the expertise of the industry, and if a company has all the necessary capacities, it should not be kept waiting for five years. According to operators, this will only discourage new entrepreneurs in the cable industry.
Finally, the cable industry is a ‘conversion industry’ in the sense that it only converts raw materials into cables. In such industries, raw materials are usually the most expensive parts, and in the cable industries, raw materials make up 60-70% of the total production cost. It is suggested that if the cable companies focus on enhancing efficiency in the supply of raw materials, they can maintain a right profit margin without compromising on quality. To ensure that, the government should play a significant role in defining the industry benchmarks for efficiency, which as a spillover effect can solve an array of issues at once.

Importance of Product Specifications and Quality
The quality of cable being used should be of paramount importance as homeowners, and industrialists bet crores worth of assets upon the safety that these cables have to provide. Apart from the safety hazards, low-quality cables cause substantial power loss in the long run. If impure raw materials are used for making conductors, a certain amount of power is bound to get lost during the distribution process due to higher resistance. And as generally, a cable remains in operation for 20-30 years, the total loss incurred, if counted over the years, stands at a very high amount. This is the one of less talked about sides of the perennial problem of system loss caused by the use of sub-standard products, as explained by the expert.
Moreover, the lack of knowledge of product specifications by consumers, as to which type of cable is appropriate for their desired purpose, also acts as a hindrance towards proper utilization and risk minimization.

Most recorded short circuits and fire breakouts occur due to the lower quality of cables installed. In many cases, industries use domestic cables, which significantly risks the safety of the institution and its workers.

A Brighter Future for the Industry Ahead
Opportunity in the cable industry also lies as the government is considering expansion of electricity coverage in rural areas, which will create a massive demand for power. The Power System Master Plan (PSMP) 2016 sets the target of generating 60,000 MW by 2041. To achieve this goal Bangladesh has to improve a lot in its power generation capacity. Similarly, it also has to improve power transmission and distribution capacity.
This is an opportune moment for the local cable industry to expand their business and focus on manufacturing distribution and transmission cables. High voltage transmission lines are required to meet the high power demand in the city areas, but overhead transmission of high voltage lines tends to be quite risky. Moreover, it also consumes valuable city space. Thus, the government is most likely to move towards underground transmissions. The government is planning to change all overhead electricity distribution lines to underground ones in six major cities by 2025 as per the PSMP. This is also expected to increase the longevity and reliability of the power distribution system. A considerable amount of cable will be required shortly to fulfill that demand.
The local companies who have the capacity should gradually expand towards producing 132 kV and 230 kV cables. The manufacturing of transmission cables requires high investment as 132 kV, and 230kV cables are far superior qualitatively compared to domestic cables. Achieving the capacity of producing such high voltage cables will result in overall production quality improvement, which is rewarding in the long run.
The export potential of cable products from Bangladesh is also something which should not be overlooked. Like many other industries, tax benefits provided by the government can benefit to promote cable export. In pursuit of that, the local cable industry should also strive to attain international standards to compete in the foreign market. If quality, capacity, and standardization can be achieved, then cable products can become premier export items for Bangladesh in the future.
Industry experts and leaders can anticipate a bright future of the cable industry in Bangladesh. Since the demand for electricity is growing along with the rapid development of the country, a massive scope of expansion lies subsequently for the cable industry in the coming years.

Freelancers of Bangladesh have long been waiting for PayPal, the world’s largest internet payment service, to come to Bangladesh. To answer all their prayers, PayPal is finally expected to start operating in Bangladesh from October 19. Prime Minister’s Information Technology Advisor Sajeeb Wazed Joy will inaugurate the PayPal service on the second day of Bangladesh ICT Expo 2017.

On Monday, State Minister of Post, Telecommunications & Information Technology, Zunaid Ahmed Palak informed the nation’s news media about this development. He stated that the PayPal services will be available in nine banks including Sonali Bank and Rupali Bank. The PayPal authorities have been experimenting with the local market for quite some time now. In view of the potential that the Bangladeshi market holds, the company has decided to fully introduce its services in the country. This will benefit the freelancers of Bangladesh heavily. Besides, the rate of remittance is expected to increase as the digital transaction will take a hike.

Zunaid Ahmed Palak also said that the country is moving towards the more digital transaction, aiming for a cashless society. To truly convert into a digital Bangladesh, it is important to introduce such services throughout the nation. With the introduction of PayPal, it will now be possible to get services from the 12 thousand branches held by the nine banks.

Earlier in April this year, the State Minister met the officials of the company to launch PayPal in Bangladesh. The company responded to the call to start operations quickly in Bangladesh. In the meeting held at PayPal-Xoom’s California headquarters, the PayPal-Xoom delegation was led by its chief marketing officer Julian King.

Later, in May, Sonali Bank launched experimental PayPal service in the country. A circular was issued to all the branches of the bank to provide the service. Initially, it was said that foreign remittance collection and distribution programs were available under the service, but no services relating to freelancing or outsourcing were offered at the time.