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Battling Climate Change and the Energy Crisis in Bangladesh

By Ayesha Towhid

· Asia,Environment,Energy,Community Assistance

Sajid Iqbal’s concept of change is based on finding the best practices of climate change mitigation around the world, contextualizing it for his country Bangladesh, and implementing it by using affordable and local resources.

For three consecutive years, the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh has been listed as the most densely populated city on earth. It houses over 17 million people where an average 41,000 live in one square kilometer. While the country has one of the fastest growing populations and exhibits rapid infrastructural development, it is also home to thousands of people who live in dire conditions in over 3,300 neglected slums. These slums are overcrowded areas with makeshift houses which lack many of the basic conveniences of life. The place is so congested that sunlight rarely pierces through the houses. As a result, most of the households are forced to use electric lights even during the day which increases their cost of living, creates added pressure to the demand for electricity, and ultimately contributes to climate change.

Botol Bati

Photo from Sajid Iqbal

In his second year of university, Sajid Iqbal, founder of a youth-based community and development organization called Change, came across a video of the Liter of Light initiative which showed how the simple concept of using plastic bottles could address a crucial problem like energy crisis. Sajid was instantly moved by the idea and decided to work on it. He believed this kind of technology could be extremely useful to many areas in Dhaka.

Sajid and his team developed their adaptation of Liter of Light and named it Botol Bati (Solar Bottle Light). Botol Bati is based on the similar technology of reusing empty plastic bottles as lights. It is constructed using empty bottles, tin sheds (1 ft by 1ft), silicon glue, chlorine, and clean water. The bottle lights are placed in the roofs of the houses and produce at least 60 watts of equivalent light. With the support and guidance from Sustainable Development for Energy Programme of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), 250 Botol Batis were installed in the Baonea-badh slum of Mirpur, Dhaka. It covered households, toilets, and cottage industries in the area. Around 5,500 people were direct and indirect beneficiaries of the initiative.

The success story of Botol Bati was soon disseminated among people. It was very positively accepted by the community. It saved around 8.24 MW of electricity per month, reduced CO2 emissions of around 424.15 kg monthly, and ensured sufficient daytime lighting during power outage, all essential for addressing climate change. Above all, it created a movement of finding innovative solutions to the energy crisis. The initiative was adopted by several organizations and implemented in different places in Bangladesh including schools and refugee camps.

Uplifting Local Businesses through Shurjo Bati

Photo from Sajid Iqbal

After experiencing the positive effects of Botol Bati, many people reached out to Sajid’s organization to develop the project on a broader scale. Some requests came from small business owners that owned factories. The factories required huge amounts of electricity to provide light during the day. They were optimistic that Botol Bati might be able to bring an alternative that could significantly bring down their expenses.

Sajid and his team researched on the topic and found out about Sky Lights. This renewable type of technology is available in countries like the United States of America and United Kingdom. However, importing the equipment and installing it in small factories is not economically sustainable. The team decided to build similar lights using locally available raw materials. They were successful in developing a prototype they called Shurjo Bati. During its pilot phase, Shurjo Bati was installed in a small cottage factory and an ice cream factory. After the yearlong project, the organization found that Shurjo Bati is helping the host industry to use free natural lighting for 10-12 hours during the day, covering an area of around 750-800 square feet and illuminating equivalent to the light of a compact fluorescent lamp bulb.

Through this initiative, Change realized that this project has huge prospect in several similar factories of Bangladesh. “Shurjo Bati can be a sustainable solution to the energy crisis and an effective tool for mitigating climate change. Currently we are looking for impact investors to scale up the project and reach out to several more places in Bangladesh and across South Asia,” Sajid shared.

Training Programs

Photo from Sajid Iqbal

Aside from its projects, the organization also hosts training programs to involve young people in finding home-grown solutions to climate change. They organized The Renewable Energy Innovation Hub in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State in 2015. It was a five-month long training program with specific focus on the research and development of renewable energy appliances. The event brought together engineering students from different universities, polytechnic institutions, and colleges. During the training, the participants developed many innovative projects like Solar Street lights, Solar Lanterns, Solar Irrigation Pumps and Solar Water Purifiers. Solar street lights were made by using simple elements like bamboo and recycled plastic bottles providing light to many remote areas in Bangladesh with no access to electricity. The Solar irrigation pump is capable of providing around 25-30 thousand liters of water per day. Adopting these projects would provide a sustainable and environment friendly solution to some crucial challenges faced by the low income community in Bangladesh. At present, Change is working on few more projects to promote recycling of plastic wastes. The organization is positive that these kind of initiatives will help to raise awareness among people regarding climate change.

Awards and Recognition

Sajid Iqbal’s endeavor brought him the Queen's Young Leaders Awards in 2017. He was also listed as the Forbes 30 under 30 list for Asia in 2018 for his contribution in the renewable energy sector in Bangladesh.

Hopes for the Future

Change is bringing a much needed transformation in the energy sector of Bangladesh. With easy to use, low cost and environment friendly projects, the organization is creating a positive impact on the lives of several people. They only hope that the organization receives adequate support to carry out the initiative and to reach out to many more areas in Bangladesh.

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