FIOR Reports post By Becca Roberts on Smart Cities as to How Technology Is Helping To Rebuild War-Torn Regions could be made good use of in several of the MENA region’s broken and/or stagnating countries.
Smart Cities: How Technology Is Helping To Rebuild War-Torn Regions
The above image is of Part of the new Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, which was built as part of extensive redevelopment efforts on the former Soviet territory. Image: Bojan Stojkovski / ZDNet
For more than three decades, the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has been at the center of much disagreement between the neighboring Caucasian states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The city of Agdam once had a population of 30,000 but was hit hard by the conflict. Now it’s a ghost town.
Since it began in 1988, the conflict over the region has also produced more than a million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Now as Azerbaijan seeks to gradually rebuild the country hit by the struggle, authorities hope technology can play a central role in encouraging citizens to return to the region by creating smart cities and villages that offer better ways of life encourage.
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According to Anar Valiyev, urban planning expert and associate professor at ADA University in Baku, building new communities supported by digital amenities will make the region more attractive not only to returnees but also to those who have stayed in the region Conflict.
The first planning phase is followed by a pilot project in which a number of “smart villages” – referred to as Aghaly-1, Aghaly-2 and Aghaly-3 – are being built in the Zangilan region of Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 200 houses are being built here from innovative building materials such as recycled steel and precast concrete and connected to intelligent electricity, gas and waste disposal companies.
“Alternative energy sources are used for all residential buildings, social facilities, office buildings, restaurants, processing and production of agricultural products.”
Bridging a digital divide
Building new, digitally supported communities will also serve to bridge the gap between the Azerbaijani capital Baku and other urban and rural areas.
Such projects could also entice young Azerbaijanis to move to the Nagorno-Karabakh region in search of new opportunities. Eldar Hamza, 26, is one of them.
During the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Hamza’s family was evicted from the town of Fizouli, which had a population of around 17,000 before the war but became a ghost town after they escaped.
“I also believe that most of them will return to live here if there are opportunities for large companies to lay off workers in the area.”
Eldar Hamza, 26, now works as a tour operator in Baku after his family was displaced by the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The nearby city of Agdam is also being rebuilt. Before the conflict, the city had almost 30,000 residents. Now, like Fizouli, it is practically deserted.
“We are in the planning phase and are now designing various locations,” said Emin Huseynov, Azerbaijani economist and special representative in the Agdam district, opposite ZDNet. “But the most important [part] is the basic infrastructure that is being made now. When it’s done, we’ll start building the city. “
The development of smart cities should be a boon to Azerbaijan’s ICT industry, which is still in its infancy, and its oil-oriented economy.
In 2016, ICT was one of eleven economic sectors identified by the Azerbaijani authorities as being of strategic importance to the country. The country has now adopted a strategic roadmap for its development; However, according to a report by IPHR and Azerbaijan Internet Watch, the ICT sector represented only 1.6% of Azerbaijan’s total GDP in 2020.
“I think that the ICT sector will develop faster because the development of smart cities also requires faster development of information technology,” Valiyev told ZDNet Informatik und Systemtechnik.
There is also great interest in IT and agriculture. Dmitry Andrianov, founder of Baku-based tech magazine InfoCity, says the development of smart cities and smart villages in the liberated areas of Karabakh should prove to be an incentive for the advancement of the Azerbaijani technology sector and points to the growth of the young IoT startup Sumaks and agritech startup Kibrit.