Lack of international accreditation for local testing laboratories has put the country’s solar module manufacturers into a big trouble in exporting their products and supplying those to projects.
According to official sources, there are two testing labs in the country to ascertain the quality and standard of solar panels and other relevant equipment.
One of the labs has been set up at state-owned Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) in Dhaka while another at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (Sreda) has played a supportive role in setting up these two laboratories as it promotes the development of renewable energy in the country, the sources said.
But local solar module manufacturers are not happy with the facilities of these two laboratories as they do not have international accreditation.
“Since these two labs have no international accreditation, their certifications are not useful in businesses like supply of solar modules to local projects or export,” said Munawar Moin, president of Solar Module Manufacturers Association (SMMAB)
Munawar Moin said the supply of local solar products requires certificates from the laboratories which have accreditation from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a global body.
The IEC has been the appropriate body for the accreditation of international standards and conformity assessment for all electrical, electronic and related technologies, he said.
Moin said the suppliers need the international certificate to qualify for supplying their products to foreign-funded projects while such certificates are also required for export business as well.
According to him, local labs can issue such certificates if they have IEC accreditation.
Admitting the lacking, Sreda chairman Mohammad Alauddin said Sreda will take initiatives so that the two labs can have the IEC accreditation to issue quality and standard certificates to local solar module manufacturers.
Former member of Sreda Siddique Zobair said if the local labs want IEC accreditation, they have to ensure certain compliances about standards as the international body will conduct audit every year.
According to solar industry insiders, there are nine local companies which now have the capacity to produce solar panels equivalent to about 100 MW against the current annual demand of similar level.
“But they now produce only 20MW equivalent panels for lack of government policy support while 80 MW is met by imported panels from China, India and some other countries.
“If we can have international standard certificates from local labs having international accreditation, it’ll help us increase both domestic supply and international export. And we won’t require to spend money on receiving standard and quality certificates from foreign agencies,” said the SMMAB president.
He also said the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI) can also take an initiative to issue the IEC-accredited certificates by establishing its own laboratory facilities.
According to Power Division, the government has set a target of generating 10 percent electricity from renewable energy by 2020 which means at least 2000 MW of power should come from renewable sources.
But so far only 600 MW electricity is coming from renewable sources, mostly from solar home system, the biggest programme with 6.4 million panels.
In such a situation, the SMMAB leaders said both the government and private sector should work together to achieve the goals.
Amid the fast-changing scenario in Bangladesh economy due to COVID-19 crisis, the government is going to change the main macroeconomic structure of the 8th Five Year Plan to protect people.
The Planning Commission is conducting a study for assessing the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and its findings will be reflected on the 8th Five Year Plan, according to a government document.
"The study will also assess the impacts of (COVID-19) pandemic on the poverty reduction programmes and GDP growth activities," the document says.
The work to formulate the 8th Five Year Plan has started as the timeframe of the 7th Five Year Plan expired on June 30 this year.
Bangladesh has already attained the status of lower middle-income country and established the base to preliminarily graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) list to that position.
The document sates that the 8th Five Year Plan will be helpful for the country to graduate from the LDC list by 2024 and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In the 8th Five Year Plan, emphasis will be given on two major issues, expediting prosperity and inclusive growth in addition to giving attention to disseminating the results of growth to everyone equally.
Upholding the 'No one will be left behind' slogan, the 8th Five Year Plan will take target-oriented programmes for the ‘left behind people and areas’ in terms of various economic and social indexes.
According to the document, the 8th Five Year Plan in its formulation process will follow the Perspective Plan 2021-2041 and the election manifesto 2018 of the government.
Sources at the Planning Commission said Bangladesh has targeted 8.37 percent economic growth on average for the 8th Five Year Plan.
The government also sought funds from development partners so that the existing growth is sustained in the plan. It will form committees to regularly monitor the progress of the next plan.
The government will focus on three issues -- job creation and GDP growth, ensuring equal opportunities for, all and tackling the adverse effects of COVID-19 and climate change, a Planning Commission official said.
The First Five Year Plan was launched in July 1973 and it was followed by a Two-Year Plan (1978-80) in the wake of global economic uncertainties. In 1980, the Five-Year Plan framework was reinstated.
There was a shift from the five-year plan to a process of shorter-term Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) from 2002-2003 to 2009-2010. The present government has switched back to the five-year plan returning to power in 2009.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has taken various steps to combat its fallout. It has taken a comprehensive plan to overcome the possible negative impacts of pandemic on economy and people.
Under this plan, the government has taken measures that were necessary in the immediate term and it is implementing some in medium term. It also has taken a slew of long-term initiatives, aiming to achieve full economic recovery.
The comprehensive plan is based on four main strategies --discouraging luxury expenditures and prioritising government spending that creates job, creating loan facilities through commercial banks at subsidised interest rate for the affected industries and businesses, expanding the coverage of the government’s social safety net programmes.
In light of the comprehensive plan and strategies, the government has declared a number of stimulus packages to support the emergency healthcare services to protect jobs and achieve smooth economic recovery.
The economic recovery packages declared so far has totalled Tk 1,03,117 crore.
While many people are losing their jobs and works amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a young man of Boalkhali upazila of Chattogram has set an example by farming papaya without wasting time during the lockdown.
Md. Azim, son of Amir Hossain of Sreepur-Kharandwip union of the upazila, is a government employee by profession but gardening is his hobby.
When the government announced the general holiday last March, the young man tried to utilize the time instead of wasting it sitting at home like others.
Three months ago, Azim started growing papaya on abandoned 10 decimal land along the Kanungopara-Sreepur Bura Mosque road in Aklia mouza of Popadia union of the upazila.
Apart from papaw, he also planted various vegetables and varieties of lemon, banana, guava and mango in the garden.
Azim said that he planted hundreds of high yielding papaw saplings in the land.
He has harvested over one maund (around 38 kg) papaw from each tree.
And with these crops produced in his garden, he is meeting the needs of the family after selling them in local markets.
“I have also distributed other vegetables among the relatives and neighbors. There is a kind of satisfaction in it,” he said.
He said that with the help of the government, he would start papaya fields on a larger scale in the future.
Azim said that he is expecting that there will be 100 maunds, or 400 kg of papaws from his crop.
Having started with Tk 11,000 investment, he is now eying for Tk 1 lakh from papaw cultivation, said Azim, adding that there will also be income from other vegetables and fruits.
Shahadat, a resident of the area, said that though the educated youth Azim works in the government office, he is producing vegetables in the village. Seeing Azim's papaw cultivation, many people in the area are now showing interest in cultivating papaw on arable land.
Upazila Deputy Assistant Agriculture Officer Durgapad Dev said there are no problems in the papaw orchard except spiders and fungi attacks. If weather remains favourable, it is possible to make profit by cultivating nutritious papaw.
As it looks unlikely that coronavirus will disappear until there is a vaccine, experts have warned that the deadly virus may hit Bangladesh even harder in the coming winter.
They fear that people may become very susceptible to coronavirus like other respiratory viruses and flu-like diseases during the winter due to low humidity, less sunlight, mild vitamin D deficiency and impaired immunity.
They, however, think the actual spread may depend on human intervention and bulwarks such as strict enforcement of universal masking, physical distancing, improved hand hygiene and increased testing and isolation.
Some recent studies conducted in different countries, including India, the UK and Australia, also claim that the virus may rise in winter dampening the outlook for a return to a normal life.
A team of researchers from India’s two universities--IIT-Bhubaneswar and AIIMS--recently warned their policymakers against the increase in transmission of Covid-19 during the peak of monsoon and winter across the country.
Based on their research which has not been peer reviewed yet, they said monsoon rainfall and cooling of the atmosphere coupled with progression towards winter may environmentally favour coronavirus transmission in India.
According to a modelling study by India’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), their country may see 2.87 lakh COVID-19 cases per day by the end of next winter.
Researchers from the Banaras Hindu University and Central University of Rajasthan, India, stated in their study that there can be an increase in the spread of coronavirus during the winter season.
A modelling study of the Academy of Medical Sciences in the United Kingdom has also suggested that the number of Covid-19-related hospital deaths during winter --between September 2020 and June 2021--in the UK could be as high as 119,900, the academy with a new wave of the virus.
A research in Australia’s Sydney University suggests a 1 percent fall in humidity could increase the number of infections by 6 percent. It also said only lower humidity was associated with an increase in Covid-19 cases, not temperature.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggest that Britain, Central Asia, the Caucuses, Eastern and Central Europe, northern and midwestern US, and British Columbia in Canada are at greater risk of community transmission in the winter.
Talking to UNB, Prof Nazrul Islam, former Vice Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said the way the coronavirus transmission is going on it can be assumed that the virus will prevail during the winter.
“I fear the situation may deteriorate in winter as people at that time used to suffer many other respiratory viruses and flu-like diseases,” he said.
He said cold temperatures and low humidity is likely to help coronavirus live longer while vitamin D deficiency and weakened immunity may help the coronavirus take a heavy toll on human health.
Prof Nazrul Islam, also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC), the mortality rate also may go up as corona may get stronger with influenza and pneumonia, asthma and other cold-related diseases during the winter.
He said elderly people and children will be the most vulnerable to the deadly virus in cold weather.
“We need to intensify our efforts to contain the virus as early as possible through effective programmes. We should conduct at least 25,000 sample tests every day and identify the hidden cases and put them in isolation to slow the transmission. People also need to cooperate with the government by maintaining health hygiene rules to get rid of the virus,” Prof Nazrul said.
Prof Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS said though many experts said corona has no relation with the weather, it has a correlation with the season.
“The symports of corona are similar to cold-related diseases. It’s basically a disease of winter, it has many strains which are capable to survive during any season like summer and rainy ones. At the early stage, some experts thought the virus may become weaker during the summer, but they proved wrong since virus infections increase sharply during hot weather,” he observed.
Dr Be-Nazir there are many viruses which cannot outbreak like a pandemic, but corona is a different type of virus with various strains.
He said there are some strains of coronavirus that may become acute and deadly during the winter. “So, we should now work out plans so that we can tackle the virus effectively during the cold weather.”
Echoing Prof Nazrul, Be-Nazir said elderly people and those who have a chronic respiratory problem could be the worst victim of the virus during cold weather.
He said the government should enforce lockdown in red zones and identify the infected people and isolate them from others to slow the virus spread.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the IEDCR, said though it is not yet proved that coronavirus has any relation with the weather, it can be assumed that the survival time of virus may increase during cold weather.
“Many people in Bangladesh suffer from common cold problems caused by four other coronaviruses rather than Covid-19, but those are self-preventive viruses. So, if the Covid-19 and other coronavirus affect people together during the winter the situation may deteriorate sharply. Though this is only an assumption, we should remain alert,” he said.
Alamgir said without people’s awareness and cooperation, the country will not get rid of the dangerous pandemic. “Our people should need to understand it that we need to lead a very controlled life for at least six months more to contain the virus. People must be very careful during winter so that they don’t catch cold and corona.”
Although just over two months have now passed since Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the south-western coastal areas of the country, the residents of Koyra upazila who evacuated their homes as the storm approached still find themselves unable to return.
The purpose-built cyclone shelters or other buildings and structures that form part of the area’s public infrastructure and double up as shelters during emergencies, to which the residents of Koya were moved alongside millions of others have become their homes effectively, though there is nothing homely about them.
It is the ultimate nightmare for any sensible person who heeds the Met Department’s warnings in the face of an approaching cyclone and heads to the shelters, that once the storm passes, they would go back to find their residences destroyed. The plight of the Koyra residents post-Amphan has not been dissimilar.
Imtiaz Uddin Ahmed, general secretary of Koyra Development Coordination Committee, a citizens’ platform, said “Several kilometres of the river protection embankment of the upazila have been washed away by the storm. The situation of the Amphan-hit area has not improved till now, so people who took shelter in different roads and shelter homes have been unable to make their way back even.”
Executive Engineer of Khulna Water Development Board (Satkhira-2) Md Arifuzzaman said some 40 kilometres of the flood protection embankment was destroyed, across 21 points. The tidal surge accompanying the strong winds of Amphan ended up flooding 80 percent of the upazila.
It was a disaster waiting to happen, as the structure was weak and vulnerable along several points. When it happened to be in the path of a cyclone, it stood no chance. Residents had been trying to draw the attention of the authorities for months.
In February, UNB reported how residents of 5 unions in the upazila were warning that the flood control embankment in their area was “on the verge of collapse.” They even provided specifics, voicing particular concern over a 21-km stretch of the embankment between polder numbers 13-14/1 and 13-14/2, along the Kopotakkho and Shakbaria rivers, as particularly vulnerable. In the event, when Amphan struck, they were proved right in the most cruel manner.
It was no surprise then that some residents, in the aftermath of Amphan decided to strike out on their own and started work to repair the embankment themselves. But they could only go so far.
Many people have taken shelter on the dyke or roads but they have endured unspeakable suffering. Everywhere they look they are cut off by water and they are passing their days like prisoners.
Needless to say, they are also suffering from lack of access to pure drinking water and sanitation, but as long as their own homes remain off limits the situation offers little hope. Add to that the lack of adequate food.
They are now counting their days till they can get back their houses.
Anwarul Islam, who took shelter at Dakkhin Bedkeshi cyclone center, said “I could not go back to our home after two months of the cyclone Amphan as me along with my family are living at Harinkhola Government Primary School-cum cyclone centre. Like my family some 52 families and 150 people are now living there. At first, there were 300 people but most of them left the place after making makeshift houses on the road.”
Anwarul is from the village of Ghatakhali in Koyra upazila where many parts of the river protection dam along Kopotakkho River got damaged. “Since then with the rise and fall of tidal waters, my area is flooded twice daily.”
Shahanur, another resident of the upazila, said “I just about managed to build a tent on the road (of Water and Power Development Authority). We are suffering from lack of pure drinking water as salinity has intruded everywhere.”
Khokon, another victim, who also took shelter in a dyke, said “We go through a lot of problems during rains.” Beside him was Jarina, who raised her voice to speak up on the inadequacy of the relief provided by the government.
“We are going through a food crisis. We hardly survive by the relief food getting from some people at times,” she said.
MM Saiful Islam, a construction worker by profession, who also has taken shelter on the road, said “I left home two months ago and still I could not return as it is submerged by the river water.”
He also demanded construction of a sustainable and long-lasting dam in the upazila.
SM Shafiqul Islam, chairman of Koyra upazila, said 34 families have taken shelter in Harinkhola, 40 families in Bedkashi Collegiate School, 200-250 families on road stretching from at Kashirhatkhola to Hajatkhali area and 10-12 families on Koyra sluice gate area.
They will not be able to return home until the embankment is repaired, he said.