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Renewing self-reliance in rural Bangladesh through renewable energy

Hossain, Md. Amzad (2001) Renewing self-reliance in rural Bangladesh through renewable energy. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis challenges accepted rationales for persisting poverty, energy crises and environmental degradation in Bangladesh, and questions the efficacy of well-meant international aid agency responses to Bangladeshi problems. In this context it examines and contrasts the vertical thinking, Western cultural norms and prescriptive style which has parented aid delivery, with the theses of Bangladeshi folk-philosophers and mystics whose lateral thinking and considerations of Bangladesh’s problems are embedded in the saw “whatever you think about Bangladesh, the opposite is equally true”.

The thesis analyses village Bangladeshi’s acute energy crisis, mounting poverty and environmental degradation and the factors which cause them: mis-management of soil, water and forest resources, floods, droughts, cyclones, and the inadequacy and inconsistency of the national electricity supply.

The thesis describes the topography, water regimes, climate and innate fertility of Bangladesh’s alluvial soils and freshwater aquatic systems, wetlands and forests. It describes the well-being of Golden Bengal and its international trade status before British colonisation. 11 tracks its deterioration during colonial rule and, the decades subsequent to the British partition of India, and the East West Pakistan war. This provides a backdrop to the unsuccessful remedial development projects and aid initiatives intended to assist the 85% of Bangladeshis who live in agricultural and fishing villages: the village people are now less self-reliant than they were in the 1960’s, when the “Green Revolution” began. The thesis develops the proposition - supported by scholarly texts, and the insights of of village elders, folk-philosophers and spiritual teachers -that the key to a sustaining and sustainable self-reliant lifestyle for rural villages is on-site generation of electricity and biogas by energy technologies which are powered by renewable resources.

The thesis examines the acceptability of the overall concept of a renewable energy technology system (RETS) for rural villagers, and their capacity to manage and maintain such installations. In this context it deconstructs the homogenous culture of rural Bangladeshis, informed by the history of traditions, and, by ethnographic research conducted over 16 years in 40 village locations ranging from coastal areas to riverine islands and agricultural croplands.

It also examines Western definitions of poverty and realities of ‘poverty’ in village Bangladesh. It teases out the discrepancy: the Western definition of nutritional and health standards, and access to employment and literacy, and the many Bangladesh categories of ‘poorness’. The latter is largely acceptable and has a specific nomenclature which indicates whether people are ‘poorly’, temporarily poor, through social nuisance or natural disaster (which may also be reversed), truly dependent on others because they cannot provide income because of physical incapacity or widowhood, or poor by spiritual commitment. The latter two categories are viewed as culturally and socially necessary. Rural Bangladeshis have adequate food, but lack cooking fuel; they have housing and access to health services - but have been displaced from traditional sources of extra income and full productivity.

Finding that the culture, nature-based spirituality and critical needs of the practical village Bangladeshis are congruent with the introduction and inclusion of RETS into traditional rural lifestyles, the thesis then examines possible contra-indications for the adoption of the system - floods, cyclones and cost. It outlines a process of villager and organisational solutions to these problems, and participation in overall energy planning for a self-reliant village Bangladesh. It addresses the need for Government of Bangladesh (GOB) energy policies which place RETS in the front line of initiatives to service the majority of Bangladeshis - the villagers. It looks to the global perspective, and the spectre of global warming, to advance persuasive arguments to the GOB and international development forums and agencies to ensure the widespread provision of viable RETS in rural Bangladesh as soon as is expedient.

The thesis establishes that a renewable energy technology system is the means to the achievement of self-reliance and a sustainable life style for village Bangladesh.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Newman, Peter and Booth, Michael
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