The Role of ICT in Poverty Alleviation
This page will describe the strategies and practices to effectively reduce poverty in under-developed countries using ICT. Information Revolution has changed the way we interact with each other and it will be worthwhile to study its effect on poverty reduction.
ICT is an umbrella term for information communication technologies that are broader than just internet or computers. In fact, radios, TVs, Public Address Systems, newspapers and even libraries are considered an ICT as they communicate information.
Poverty is defined as a state of living deprived of basic life necessities.(http://economics.about.com/od/economicsglossary/g/poverty.htm) However it is suggested that poverty is a result of digital divide i.e. the gap between those who have access to digital information to those who have no access at all. (Harris,R 2005) According to World Bank Report 31% of the world poverty resides in South Asia.
Description of some ICTs:
Radio is the cheapest method of transmission to masses over wide geographical terrain. Different initiatives have shown the effectiveness of this method.
For example in the Philippines joint program nb6y the UNESCO, DIDA and Philippines government is providing radio equipment and training to many villagers. The project has increased local business and agricultural productivity (UNESCO Courier 1997).
To further explain, in South Africa, a radio is being distributed to the farmers to enable them to listen to development programs and agricultural guidance plans. The radio is the very first of its kind, as it requires no batteries or mains electric supplies. Thus suitable for remote sites where electricity is not present.
All over the world radios are being used to dispatch information to the poor, pertaining to different issues, which may range from weather forecast to local news, thereby, increasing the productivity of the people.
The ubiquitous telephone is a very important ICT tool. A telephone enables information and knowledge to be shared and exchanged; and unlike TVs and radios, a user, in addition to being educated, can ask his/her questions and get the desired answers. In fact, many TV and radio stations offer suggestions and guidance to users’ queries. Many telecom service providers offer suggestions to medical problems of people over telephones, in remote areas.
To quote an example of effective telephone usage, Grameen Phone in Bangladeshi villages leased cellular phones to its members, who further used it for business and health related issues. It was found that such “information flow resulted in better prices for outputs and inputs, easier job searches, reduced mortality rates for livestock and poultry, and better returns on foreign-exchange transactions.” (Bayes et al, 1999)
Perhaps currently the most effective of all ICTs, TVs have a great potential as a development tool. A widespread and established infrastructure, in most under-developed countries, allows for relatively low initialization and maintenance costs of an ICT initiation.
As an example, China’s TV University and Agricultural TV station is globally famous for its endeavors in educating the illiterate masses.
4. Computer and Internet
Computer and Internet, popularly and incorrectly considered as the only ICT, have demonstrated to become a very powerful ICT tool in development, especially poverty alleviation. Computer and Internet are commonly used at telecentres where poor and illiterate interact through the staff to avail different facilities which may include e-mailing to some relatives or acquirement of agricultural statistics. Such telecentres are capable of self-sustainability.
5. Public Address Systems
Public Address (PA) systems use an electric amplification device to boost a sound . PA systems, as the name implies, are used to deliver messages, information, and news to a small gathering or general public. Public Address systems are usually found in rural areas of China and Vietnam.
PA is different from normal sound system as former utilizes more sophisticated equipment.
Strategies for ICT in Poverty Alleviation
1. Good Governance
Governments have traditionally been unable to empower the poor especially in the under developed countries. With an effect that the masses living below the poverty line hardly play any part in a country’s development. ICTs can facilitate governments’ initiatives to alleviate and ameliorate the poverty condition in a country.
Commonly known as E-government, this ICT field has shown remarkable success in solving people’s problems.
For example in Karnataka, India, to facilitate retrieval of land records, the government computerized 20 million records of 6.7 million farmers. As a consequence, a printed copy of the land report was available in few minutes compared to the huge time of months in the previous system. Furthermore, instead of going to an office and requesting for a form the farmers could visit dedicated kiosks.
The project called the Bhoomi project has now been expanded to provide other useful data such as lists of handicapped prisoners or weather information.
After a successful E-government infrastructure has been established, proper awareness campaigns could be launched to inform the people about the possible benefits. ICT again can play a very critical role in this regard. Concerned organizations can use different ICTs such as radio or television to update people on the new developments, their benefits and how to avail them. As everybody cannot understand English, the information can be conveyed in different languages.
Under-developed countries generally have low literacy rate, thereby, limited economic growth .which in turn increases the number of people living below the poverty line.
According to UNESCO about 3 percent of young people in Sub-Sahara in Africa and 7 percent young Asians attend poor secondary schools. This when compared to 58 percent of industrialized countries and 81 percent of USA reveals the root cause of poverty.
As an alternative to the high cause of establishing conventional schools, E-learning (or online learning) and Distance Education, is the result of ICT in education. According to the World Bank and UNESCO, the cost of educating a student through E-learning is about 1/3rd the cost at traditional institutions in the same country . China Central Radio and Television University is a Distance Learning institution with over 1.5 million students.
Generally, Adults can benefit most from E-learning and Distance Learning because the flexible courses timings generally favor them.
Another important point is that the e- education is not limited to theoretical subjects but can involve vocational training as well.
Poor women, disabled people and non-English speakers form a big part of the less privileged part of the society. These people have restricted access to education, information and guidance about their related issues. For instance, ill people may want to know about a remedy from a physician but may not afford to visit one etc. Distance Learning and E-Learning can give them access to such information at low or no costs. A village in India has developed software in their local language (Tamil) which enabled them to generate databases for local use . Showing that, ICT can cater for languages other than English as well.
To keep the cost of equipment down, Linux can be used as the Operating System while One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Inc. can provide the hardware necessary for the class.
ICT is helping create new employment opportunities for the unemployed by either, discovering a new job by using ICT or, finding an employment by an ICT initiative. For example, Job openings online, by ensuring flow of information, can facilitate both the employer and a perspective employee.
Telecentres, in many under-developed countries, offer services such as long distance calls. These telecentres, an example of ICT initiative, are providing jobs to the unemployed.
Call centers, a big example of ICT generated project, offers vast chance of employment to the poor with appropriate skills. Such facilities offer outsourcing to Western companies and handle their calls and help lines amongst other services. China and India are now amongst the world’s highest number of call centers.
Internet offers a wealth of sources for employment. Plenty of people are earning from sites such as Google AdSense and AdWords.
5. ICT in Agricultural Development
In lieu to providing employment options, ICT can help to increase agricultural productivity. Most under developed countries have agrarian economies and their population depends on crop yields for survival.
The most practical ICT use in agricultural development can be issuance of weather information, crop diseases, harvesting guidance etc over a radio or television.
Today, most telecom providers have a service where a farmer can ask questions and receive immediate answers; a great service if the farm is at a remote place and there is some sort of an emergency.
In Hyderabad, India, a company has created a database of each registered farmer and issues service specific to each farmer. No doubt, such initiatives manifest the support of ICT in development.
6. Trade and e-commerce
According to UNCTAD 2002, Mobile-Commerce (buying and selling use wireless devices/technologies) is growing at an increasing pace because of the availability of prepaid accounts, which has an advantage over traditional billing method.
7. ICT and Health Development
As discussed above, ICT has a great potential in poverty alleviation in under-developed countries. It is to be noted that health betterment of poor is vital to poverty reduction for obvious reasons.
Health care has great potential for ICT support as exchange of information and guidance is the soul of health care.
A common ICT usage is of consultation (of a medical doctor) with other professionals from all over the world over an issue (DOI, 2001). It’s another shape is telemedicine services that offer medical guidance to poor, especially in rural areas. At such facilities, experts from different areas help in diagnosis and treatment of a patient.
ICTs can be used to broadcast disease warnings and precautionary measures in case of an emergency.
ICT Applications in Pakistan
• Pakistan has plenty of ICT programs funded both by Government (through National ICT R&D Fund) and the private sector.
• According to the Global Information Technology Report 2005-06, Networked Readiness Index (NRI) ranked Pakistan as 67th out of 115. Our teledensity stands at 54% and our internet users have grown to 22m
• Pakissanis portal containing agriculture information, in Urdu and English, in Pakistan. Kissan Time on PTV and educational programs at Radio Pakistan both convey agricultural news and guidance in different languages.
• Distance Learning through Allama Iqbal Open Universitynd Virtual University (VU) broadcast vocational and other courses throughout Pakistan.
• Pakistan Government sponsored implementation of Urdu language on Windows XP; the project was awarded to a local university .
• Telemedpak and PAkmedinet are two websites offering telemedicine services in Pakistan.
• Telenor® was the first Telecom Service Provider to offer regional Customer Support and also had the distinction of starting telemedicine services as well.
• Mobilink® started an agricultural advisory service to help farmers.
• NADRA is the largest online database in South Asia. NADRA kiosks can give desired information to any Pakistani citizen at anytime.
• Pakistan Government is promoting E-Government as Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) have an online presence.
• The poverty elimination is not a simple task and considerable research and planning is required to even start an initiative. It is imperative to understand that only ICT per se cannot alleviate poverty but can be a tool in doing so. We must keep in consideration cultural, psychological, social and economic factors as well. The effectiveness of ICT has always been a moot point. However, it is important that we analyze and criticize the use of ICT not the technologies themselves.
• As most of the poor are usually concentrated in rural areas, the real task lies in creating awareness amongst the masses and attracting them to the established structure. To conclude, we iterate again that in absence of proper planning ICT will not yield optimal results.