Syeed Ahamed

What went wrong with DST?

March 24, 2010

Every failed or successful policy deserves evaluation so that lessons can be learnt from the past. Since the cabinet has ended the controversial daylight savings time (DST) scheme, this piece revisits a few aspects of that plan to see what really went wrong.

Decisions and discussions surrounding the scheme seemed unaware of the essence of daylight savings changes. The decision makers were wrong in principle about how and when to implement DST. They did not even know or notify people about the specific period of DST. Rather, outrageous hints were given that the changed time would be followed indefinitely.

Many opponents on the other hand also came up with trivial reasons in condemning the scheme. One of my favourite authors even argued in a national daily that DST was introduced in the ‚Äėdeveloped countries‚Äô so their citizens can have ‚Äėamusement‚Äô during the longer afternoons. It goes without saying that such claims could not be far from the truth.

The scheme was introduced in the non-tropical countries who observe a significant change in daytime during the summer and winter. Since the sun rises early and sets late during the summer, some non-tropical countries temporarily advance their clocks so the afternoons get more time. They revert back to original time before winter comes (see Fig 1). The principal reason behind this temporary shift was energy savings, particularly electricity. Studies (Aries and Newsham reviewed the literatures on impact of DST and published in the Journal of Energy Policy, 36 (6), June 2008) show that introduction of DST can reduce national electricity usage by 0.5 percent. While it can increase fuel usage by allowing fuel-run vehicles to operate longer hours, the overall consumption of electricity can be reduced, especially during the peak evening hours.

However, the decisions surrounding DST in Bangladesh defy every logical sense.

op1

The major setback in Bangladesh‚Äôs DST scheme was its timing. It seems the policy makers did not even consider the practices of DST in other countries. Everywhere around the world the DST is observed only during summer, and that is why in some part of the word, it‚Äôs called ‚Äúsummer time‚ÄĚ.

Countries in northern and southern hemispheres observe DST during their respective summer seasons. For instance, in the northern hemisphere, DST in USA began on March 14, 2010 and will end on November 7. In the southern hemisphere, the southern states of Australia will be observing DST from October 4, 2009 till April 4, 2010. Bangladesh, very ridiculously, introduced the DST in the middle of summer (June 19) and continued through the winter (till December 31).

Observing DST is not beneficial for every country and the benefit is determined by its geographical position and the nature of major economic activities. As the map shows, most of the countries that observe DST are non-tropical countries where days are significantly longer during the summer season. In these areas, DST is not that much of a discomfort for people who need to wake up earlier, since the sun also rises very early. Days do not get that much longer in the tropical areas, hence most tropical countries either do not observe DST or have stopped observing it (see map).

op2Since decisions on DST change frequently, this map (above) from Wikicommons may have some minor inconsistencies.

Bangladesh is situated at the northern border of tropical region where the Tropic of Cancer goes through the country. This means, the daytime change is visible here, but not to a greater extent. Hence, introduction of DST will cause visible discomfort as the sun does not rise as early as it does in non-tropical regions. While a little discomfort in the summer could be welcomed to address the energy crisis, DST during the winter is totally unjustifiable. Continuation of DST through the winter rather increases the overall usage of electricity when people are made to wake up before sunrise.

Countries that are far from tropical regions often go for extended DST period. Whereas few countries that observe DST while being in the tropical regions usually offer shorter DST length. For instance, in the northern hemisphere, DST in USA and Canada is observed from mid March to early November. Whereas, tropical countries like Egypt and Iran observes DST from early April to late September (see Fig 2). People’s comfort is also attached to this varied duration. For instance, Egypt in 2006 reduced its DST period by one week to keep the month of Ramadan out of the DST period.

op3

Note: The light colour shows the expansion of daylight during summer. Calculated on the basis of forecasted sunrise/sunset time of 2010. The lines beside the countries denote their respective DST periods.

Among the DST observing countries, Egypt is almost parallel to Bangladesh horizontally. So if Bangladesh was to go for DST scheme, it would have made more sense if we followed a similar DST scheme. But instead, what Bangladesh did was a complete mockery of the DST idea. Making school kids wake up an hour early on 25 December, when the night is the longest, defies all the logic under which DST is observed around the world. No wonder people were criticising the scheme so furiously. Many even mocked the scheme as ‚Äėdigital time‚Äô. Good that the cabinet has finally put an end to this mockery.

Regrettably, it also showed us how a policy of good intention can be defeated by irrational implementation. The government has taken some encouraging initiatives in the field of information and communication technology. They must make sure that DST-like policy-bloopers do not hinder the prospects of those development programmes.

Let’s take it as an example of how not to do things.

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8 Responses to “ What went wrong with DST? ”

  1. Masud on March 30, 2010 at 3:36 am

    Our country is mostly ruled by odd people who neither understand science nor history. Whoever comes to power, they only want to CHANGE whatever there was from before! DST is something practised by countries where there is a great difference in sunrise and sunset timing. But Bangladesh hardly has such differences. This is truly a dumb implementation. The idea probably came from the son of Sheikh Hasina. By the way, you have written a superb article! Many thanks!

  2. Bangladeshi on March 30, 2010 at 2:36 am

    I am sorry to say that DST was not a “mockery”.
    Again I am deeply sorry to say that the writer needed more analytical power to analyse the deep problems of power shortage. He insisted that school going kids had to wake up at dawn which is the most usual thing in the Western world, and even in Singapore. I have seen that people start coming out on the streets immediately after sunrise.
    We Bangladeshis are born tough, we have a highly corrupt government for over 2-3 decades now, DST was an incredible idea and people who knew how to analyse and use it, appreciated it. Only people who do not want to change in sync with the ever changing world were burdened.
    Sorry to say Bangladesh never learns from mistakes. We could have had much less load shedding had the Cabinet imposed DST again. Bad luck Bangladesh! You gave too much to your bureaucrats and lazy school kids. Actually ‘No DST’ was the biggest mockery!

  3. Uzair on March 26, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Yes, writer is right that the DST move should have been properly thought out. It should not have been continued through the winter.
    Another thing is that most people were disturbed due to change in Zohr prayer time.

  4. Meer Ahsan Habib on March 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Extravaganza is not an appropriate word but I could not find a better one to praise this article.

  5. kazibangal on March 25, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Agreed that we have few extra hours of sunlight both in the morning and in the afternoon during summer. But the idea of changing the clock was ill conceived. We could very well utilise the extra daylight by advancing our office timing, school timing etc without going through the hassle of changing the clock twice in a year. Moreover, changing the clock at the end of the month or at the end of the year also meant a change in the starting of the whole year or the month which could impair the functions of electronic timing chips. This only shows that the proponent of DST did not realise the implications of the system.
    As for saving electricity, one could argue either way.

  6. Musarrat H. Chandan on March 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you Mr Ahamed for illustrating the reasons of using DST. It is interesting that you pin-pointed the right thing about how a good decision become a bad decision because of wrong implementation.
    It is not a new thing for us but as DST is an immediate issue, the example struck a chord.

  7. Sudipto Shaheen on March 25, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    The problem is that we go to sleep late at night; so it is convenient to rise late in the morning. Our ancestors had the good habit of going to bed early and rising early. Their life style would follow the nature but we do not. We have to watch television till midnight. We have to watch lots of Hindi serials till late. Husbands may become tired of it but not their wives. This is an inseparable part of their lives. Then, of course, the rich enjoy their nights with more diverse entertainment. So, indeed there is a problem of rising early and starting the day early.

  8. Tamtam on March 25, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Is there any estimate what proportion of electricity is used only for lighting (households/streets/markets) purposes in Bangladesh? I doubt that it will add up to a significant proportion of our total power consumption, when people still use fan, refrigerator, stove, pump, air conditioner, television and so on irrespective of the time adjustment (not to mention usage of other forms of energy consumed in transports, industries and households). I do not believe that the amount saved in that extra hour would be more than a tiny fraction of the total. Considering that meagre amount of saving, does this policy really take into account the disturbance and discomfort it causes to millions of people? And why not generate more power, rather than asking people to consume less? Isn’t it like suggesting people to eat less because the nation will have to pay for food if they maintain their normal food habit? And what is the ‘normal’ here when per head usage of electricity is already among the lowest in the world?

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