Using ICTs for climate change adaptation
Nuzhat Imam

Globally the growing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can play the role of villains or heroes in the climate change. Villains because ICT companies produce emissions that add to climate change, and heroes because ICT can be part of the solution. It can change our lifestyles and help to decarbonise and most importantly, ICTs can help in adapting with the impacts of climate change.

“My children go to school and come home reading flood and rainfall information from the UDC (Union Digital Center) dashboard. This helps me taking preparation for the flood. Timely preparations help reducing the damage of flood,” said Anjira. Anjira is a farmer of 40 years living in a flood prone village of Chauhali upazila of Sirajganj. She was talking about the role ICTs are playing in reducing flood risk while I was interviewing her as part of my study looking at the challenges and potential of ICTs in adaptation among climate vulnerable people of river islands. No doubt, people living in river islands are one of most vulnerable communities impacted by climate change. Climate change is manifested here by the erratic behavior of temperature and rainfall and more frequent and intensified occurrence of disasters like flood and river erosion. Increasing flood and river erosion damage lives and livelihoods of millions of people of the country every year.

Along with increasing awareness of climate change and the growing momentum of the debate, the role of ICTs, both globally and in Bangladesh, is starting to emerge and shed light on potentially innovative approaches to respond, prepare, and adapt to climate change impacts.

Since 2008, the Bangladesh government has committed to foster development programmes using ICTs, and declared a vision of “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021 to deliver services at citizens’ doorsteps. Now there are Union Digital Centers (UDC) at every Union Parishad (the lowest tier of the local government) which are providing 33 public services and 28 private services. The mobile subscriber penetration reached 40% at the beginning of 2014 and it is expected to grow to 50% by 2020 with mobile penetration levels quite high, even in rural areas, (BTRC 2015). There is a growing number of initiatives in using ICTs for climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) both in government and non-government sector in Bangladesh.

With increasing availability of ICTs even in rural Bangladesh, there exists an exceptional opportunity to improve the creation, management, exchange and application of relevant climate change information and knowledge. I have found in my study that almost every household even in the remotest river islands now has at least one mobile phone in possession. Even people in places without regular electricity use mobile phones depending on solar power. The study shows that a large number of people are using mobile phones, internet services of UDCs, and televisions for multiple purposes like for receiving flood early warning, money transfer, negotiating on occupational opportunities, exchanging information on agriculture, knowing about weather forecast through different non-government, government, and private sector initiatives. But there is an immense potential in using ICTs for adaptation yet to be tapped.

The role of ICTs in delivery of adaptation actions at community level can be analysed from a sectoral perspective, by linking their potential to the specific needs and priorities of key sectors affected by climate change like water resources, agriculture and food security, human health and habitat, terrestrial ecosystem, coastal zones and marine ecosystems, and disaster management. Benefit from emerging business opportunities by creating new products and services can help individuals, businesses, cities, and governments cope with the impacts of climate change. This includes climate-friendly technologies, ICT-enabled regional weather and climate networks for real-time observation, mobile phone applications based on climate-related services, novel ICT-enabled early warning, tools for urban planning and visualisation in vulnerable areas, mobile-based access to weather forecasts, equipment and smart networks to monitor and manage climate-related impacts, applications to monitor water stress, among others.

However, as I observe, there is lack of awareness among the ICT entrepreneurs on the potential opportunities for adaptation through ICTs. Adaptation related mobile apps are hardly found competing in different app design competitions. Challenges like low willingness of service providers, lack of professionalism, low connectivity or lack of information on potentials of ICTs may hinder achieving the desired outcome. There is huge untapped potential of using ICTs in climate change adaptation using the existing infrastructure. People also need to be made aware to ensure the optimum benefit of whatever ICT facilities are already there. 

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Nuzhat Imam

Nuzhat Imam is a climate change and development practitioner.