|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2010|
|Topic:||Telecommunications and environmental issues in Afghanistan|
|Organisation:||Afghanistan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRA)|
Zakaria Hassan is the Chairman of Afghanistan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, ATRA. Prior to joining ATRA as a member of the Regulatory Board, Mr Hassan was the Head of the Telecommunications Department at Siemens-Afghanistan. Mr Hassan was the National Director of the Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), a Technical Advisor to the Minister of Communications in Afghanistan and a University Lecturer. Mr Hassan is a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, MIEE, and Chartered Engineer (C.Eng.) (Engineering Council, London, United Kingdom). Zakaria Hassan obtained his Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Brighton Polytechnic (UK) and his Master’s Degree (M.Sc.) in Telecommunications Technology from Aston University, England.
Afghanistan emerged from a civil war in 2002. After the war, telephone penetration was less than 0.05 per cent – it is now 46 per cent, Internet service was not available and there was no electricity in even the largest cities. When telecommunications development took off, diesel generators powered everything, today Afghanistan’s Telecommunications Regulatory Agency is pursuing a green agenda, requiring the use of solar and wind energy where economically feasible and fostering the adoption of an environmental protection code for telecom.
According to the latest reports, the environment worldwide is rapidly degrading; activities that are harmful to the environment such deforestation and emissions of heavy industries continue at a faster pace than the implementation of corrective and preventive measures. It is time that every country and business sector take the steps needed to curtail their negative impacts on the ecosystem and on their limited non-renewable natural resources and in this way protect the environment and contribute to the collective good of mankind and all the other species on our planet. Telecommunications contribute about 2.5 per cent of the total emissions and products that are known to be harmful to the environment. This amount can be reduced to a more favourable levels by taking measures that will not degrade the availability and quality of telecommunication services. Afghanistan is a small developing country with a population of about 25 million, torn apart by war, that emerged from a civil war in early 2002 with the help of the international community. Many of the services that could help protect the environment were incapacitated during the two decades of war and for this reason one of the casualties in Afghanistan has been the environment. In January 2002, Afghanistan’s telephone penetration in was less than 0.05 per cent, Internet service was not available and there was no electricity even in the largest cities. Electricity was only available in some parts of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, for a few hours each day. Despite the difficult circumstances, very ambitious targets were set for the development of telecommunications in Afghanistan. Immediate action was taken to stimulate private investment in the telecommunications sector and roll out responsibilities were specified for the licensees. Most of the private investment has been in the GSM and microwave wireless communication systems. As there was no public electricity supply when the telecommunications development process took off in early 2002, all telecommunication sites were initially powered by diesel generators. The well known environmental issues of diesel generators, – smoke, noise and vibration – had to be resolved as quickly as practical, by telcos, ATRA and other relevant government organs. Afghanistan today Afghanistan’s official policy, published in November 2003, acknowledged that telecommunications can be used as a development tool by all sectors in Afghanistan including its environmental protection activities. Since its liberalization, private investment in Afghanistan’s telecom sector has amounted to about US$ 1.4 billion. The government has also been investing in Afghanistan’s telecommunications infrastructure to make telecommunications available as a development tool to citizens and government offices throughout the country. The government has invested over US$ 70 million in an optical fibre backbone communications system that connects all major cities of the country and facilitates connections to neighbouring countries. Additionally, the government has invested over US$ 45 million in local loop copper cable networks. The government intends to extend its optical fibre network to all of Afghanistan’s 36 provincial capitals. Telephone penetration has jumped from below 0.05 per cent in January 2002 to 46 per cent using the wireless access technologies of GSM and CDMA and 80 per cent of the population now has telecommunication service coverage. Figure 1 shows the development of telephone density in Afghanistan. Figure-1: Telephone Penetration in Afghanistan The rapid development of telecommunications in the country is due to the deployment of wireless networks. There are more than three thousand towers/antennas installed throughout the country to transmit telecom, radio and TV signals. ATRA has issued TV and radio frequency licenses for over 250 local radio and TV transmitting stations. Although Afghanistan does not have heavy industries to produce harmful emissions, Afghanistan has taken steps to protect the environment; it established the country’s Environment Protection Agency and encouraged all sectors to adopt environmentally friendly policies and use green technology whenever possible. Environmental protection initiatives The Government of Afghanistan has taken a number of initiatives that contribute to the protection of environment – Efficient energy use – The telecommunication sector is encouraged to use energy efficient power supplies. Diesel generators should be just large enough to meet the needs for electrical power, but not so large that it will become an inefficient electrical energy source. Green technology in remote areas – ATRA has started a dialog with the telecom sector asking that they use green technologies such as solar energy, wind energy and hydro energy where available and economically feasible. Some of the remotely located BTS sites in Afghanistan already use solar energy. Figure-2 shows a BTS site powered by Solar Energy. Solar Energy is still expensive compared to other sources and therefore it will be proper to introduce incentives for the telecom companies that use this technology. Figure-2: BTS Site at Roshan in rural Afghanistan Public electrical power – We encourage the telecom sector to use the public electrical power supply as much as possible instead of diesel generators. As the public electrical power supply in the country develops, we have asked the electricity company to support the telecom operators and extend electricity to telecommunications sites. This will resolve the complaints about fumes and noise from the operation of diesel generators. Electromagnetic radiation – ATRA has the responsibility to make sure that electromagnetic energy is at safe levels and to assure citizens that GSM and other wireless sites deployed in Afghanistan are safe. Afghanistan has adopted the maximum electromagnetic energy limits set by the International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) for public exposure to non-ionizing frequencies. It is now mandatory that the wireless communication/broadcasting sites of all telecom, radio and TV operators meet these electromagnetic energy limits. Government e-Activities – The government of Afghanistan has embarked on many e-projects such as e-governance, e-education, e-healthcare and others, which will substantially reduce commuting, and therefore save energy thereby curtailing negative impacts on the environment. Telecommunications for forest protection – There are natural forests of pine, pistachio, oak and other trees in the country. During and after the war, people have attacked Afghanistan’s natural forests for firewood and timber trading. This is illegal and the government wants to protect these forests. Telecommunication facilities are an effective tool for reporting illegal activities and coordinating the protection of forests. Afghanistan’s Environment Protection Agency has indicated that they will use telecommunications systems to monitor and measure the environmental conditions in the sensitive parts of the country and disseminate the information for public awareness and to take timely corrective measures. Green technologies for rural telecom – ATRA administers the USO (universal service obligation) Fund for the development of rural telecommunications. When making technical evaluation, the use of green technologies such as solar and wind energy is given additional points. It is worth noting that the village communication project of government owned Afghan Telecom uses solar power for its VSAT and terminal equipment. Regulation of diesel generators – The Environment Protection Agency has specified maximum levels of emissions, vibrations and noise for diesel generators used at telecommunications sites. The telecom sector has shown their willingness to cooperate with the Environment Protection Agency meeting their environmental requirements. Environmental protection code for telecom – ATRA intends to develop a code of practice for environmental protection in collaboration with telecom operators. The implantation of the code of practice will be voluntary and telecom operators will be requested to have a section in their annual reports on environmental issues. Adopting environment friendly policies has financial implications for telco’s; the high costs of green telecom technologies can impose further burdens on developing countries such as Afghanistan. The beneficiaries of the green technologies are developed countries where the technologies are developed and the corresponding equipment manufactured. The development and manufacturing create employment within the developed countries while the developing countries benefit from the environment friendly character of the technology. It will be a reasonable and win-win situation for both developed and developing countries if green telecom technologies are sold at cost to developing countries. The net beneficiary in this case will be the environment and, collectively, all of us. Telecom operators in Afghanistan need to adopt a code of practice aimed at saving energy, using green technologies, managing wastes; they need to curtail activities that have a negative impact on the environment and promote activities that contribute to a healthy environment. There should be a section in their annual reports on environmental issues and the progress they have made in this regard. Developed countries have been producing the majority of the greenhouse gases and hazardous wastes. They also have the financial and technical abilities to lead and contribute to global initiatives for securing a safe environment. It will be fair if the developed countries can take a lead on this issue.