November 13, 2018 – Picture this: You are getting your morning tea, checking your Facebook account and maybe thinking about the things and errands you have to finish. Lots of places to visit and petrol is not getting cheaper. Suddenly, you get a notification in your smartphone offering a discount if you pay the water bill through a secure government app. Two clicks later your bill is paid; you saved money, let alone time, and didn’t even lower your cup of tea during the process. One less place to visit.
Let’s check this other one: Monday morning, you are still trying to wake up after snoozing the alarm twice and taking a long shower when you realize that you are getting late to catch the bus. Really late. Before starting to rush the tea and biscuits, you wisely decide to track your bus using the secure app and notice that its arrival has been delayed 10 minutes. You breathe and relax while sipping the last of that morning cup.
These scenarios might look futuristic or far-fetched but the global panorama is quickly evolving towards technology integration in our daily lives and Nepal wants in. But, what is a smart city? A smart city is an urban settlement that promotes improvements in quality of a citizen’s life and a more efficient use of resources through means of networks and technology. Written in one line, the smart city is interconnected technologies to improve people’s lives in cities.
This concept was not originally coined having developing countries in mind but the continuous decrease in electronics prices and the benefits of their implementation are starting to raise questions like: How do we adjust the smart city concept to a developing nation while reaching and fulfilling the needs of the majority of its residents? One answer might already lie in our pockets: smartphones and a secure app.
In a smart city context, a secure app is a mobile application that can be installed in almost any phone and which will provide you, the citizen, with numerous tools that will save you and the government time, money and other resources. This app can be pictured as a virtual central office of your city that will assist and give you everything from information on touristic spots, real-time traffic status to the capability of paying your water and electricity bill. These and other capabilities of this powerful tool are further described below.
Dealing with governmental paperwork without stepping into an office
In pursuit of paperless bureaucracy, procedures like passport issuing, ID renovation, and many other forms need to start disappearing in physical form. This app would offer the chance to fill and submit numerous bureaucratic procedures in order to quicken them or even finish them. Regarding this matter, in mid-July of this year, the central government of Nepal took an important step in this direction with the introduction of a paperless governance system.
Online payment of utility bills and other public services
Water and electricity are fundamental for our day-to-day duties and nobody wants to be found without them. These alone are enough incentives for most users to cover their bills. For the dwellers of cities this payment process can be trivial but, in some remote areas of Nepal, the case is different. Paying an electricity bill might signify having to travel several kilometers thus creating travel expenses and in some cases, these extra expenditures can easily more than double the fee of the utility payment. By using the app these communities can get rid of this expensive inconvenient.
The government app will provide a secure, quick and effortless solution to not just paying utility bills but also can deliver a portal which will show consumption statistics of water and electricity to then give insight on how to save resources. This, in turn, can also impulse ecological and social awareness among individuals.
Receiving air quality monitoring before going out
Pollution is a real issue in Nepal and while a number of fixes have been implemented, the health risks are still affecting citizen’s life (Saud and Paudel, 2018). In the proposed app, by opening the air quality monitoring section, a quick insight into the present state of the air quality will be attained therefore giving the user a chance to take countermeasures such as putting on a mask or maybe even rearranging plans if the levels of pollutions require it. Daily morning updates can also be carried out.
Knowing where your bus is at any time
By previously installing tracking sensors in every public transport vehicle, a real-time map showing all the buses and other means of transport can be created and presented on-screen. It could also show time of arrival, be able to send notifications to the users regarding the status of their preferred transport or even tell when to leave to catch the ride on time. This virtual aid can especially improve the experience of the inhabitants roaming big cities with non-regular bus schedules.
Receive municipal news and events notifications
Cities are intrinsically social and political hubs. Creation, collaboration, and sharing of experiences among the inhabitants should be a responsibility of a government looking forward to push a culturally rich and inclusive society. Occasionally this can be incentivized through the creation of cultural and social events. Through the app, it could be possible to effectively let know the citizens that these and other events are happening or will happen. By using push notifications or an events calendar the population can be helped to participate in local matters and to alwaysbe informed. The same can be applied regarding the civil right of receiving up-to-date information related to government matters. Using this app, local authorities would have the chance to promptly inform and empower inhabitants when the law changes or else required.
Improve your government through feedback submission
Governments are not all-seeing entities and require our help to fix, correct or create city-related elements. Through a simple menu in the app, it should be quick and easy to file a complaint and send it to the corresponding department or institution for further inquiry. Examples of this are the report of an electric pole about to fall, a broken water pipe or the disruption of a utility service.
Proposals and suggestions should also be introduced through this medium. From the recovery of a public space, improvements into the trash collection route to the elimination of unnecessary bureaucratic processes, a multitude of ideas could be communicated to an attentive government.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) panorama looks promising in Nepal but, the smart city and many other variants of the term should not be used lightly for the sake of promoting political agendas or to enhance ordinary technology proposals. A thoughtful ICTs planning can bring long-term solutions instead of long-term issues. This is why the Nepalese government should take into account the needs and rights of the citizens, work based on an accurate assessment of the national infrastructure, evaluate the available resources and review the ICT background in Nepal and other countries to then eventually create and popularize realistic projections.
A secure app provided by the government is a low-cost solution in comparison with multi-billion dollars projects being developed in other regions of the world. The technology to implement the systems behind this platform already exists and the push to bring this kind of platforms forwards is not only in the government hands but in the citizen’s desires.
This article was written with the assistance of the IT expertsRoshanBudathoki andDipeshPathak.
- Su, J. Li, and H. Fu, “Smart city and the applications” in 2011 International Conference on Electronics, Communications and Control (ICECC), Ningbo, China, 2011, pp. 1028–1031.
- Bhuvan Saud and Govinda Paudel, “The Threat of Ambient Air Pollution in Kathmandu, Nepal,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2018, Article ID 1504591, 7 pages, 2018.