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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Wired up for wealth
Children living in draining pipes AP
Some people need homes rather than home computers
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Technology is not just for developed nations, it is a must for developing nations to help educate citizens, make them healthier and escape poverty.

So says a report from the UN Development Programme published this week.

It argues that technology has real potential to help struggling nations - if used in the right way.

But it warns that the digital divide is in danger of growing ever wider unless more effort is made to help certain countries get more out of communications technologies.

Technology as a tool

The same communication technologies that are helping companies in rich nations outstrip their competitors also have enormous potential to benefit the poorest nations.

Five critical steps to success
Infrastructure - technology must be widely available and easy to access
People - knowledge workers have to be trained to use what's available and teach others
Policy - strategies must be debated openly and barriers to competition torn down
Enterprise - new companies need access to development money and must be able to defend their intellectual property
Content - people need something to look at or do with the new technology
The UN Development Programme, technology consultancy Accenture and a charity called The Markle Foundation have got together under the banner of the Digital Opportunity Initiative to research the steps developing nations must take to harness the potential of technology and help their inhabitants escape grinding poverty.

The authors of the report stress that there is "no suggestion" that technology can, by itself, correct problems of political instability, poor physical infrastructure, illiteracy and underdeveloped health care.

But properly applied, they argue, communication and computer-based technologies can go a long way towards improving the quality of life of many of the world's poorest people.

"Technology can be a powerful force for good but of itself its not enough." said Vernon Ellis, chairman of Accenture. "It can only bring about sustainable development if the fundamentals are right."

Policy proposals

The report recommends that nations keen to use communication technologies to help people have to make progress on many fronts. Not only must technology be widely available and accessible, people have to be trained to use it - and there must also be policies in place to encourage use and to help entrepreneurs and innovators thrive.

In the report are many examples of technology-centred projects, such as the African Virtual University, that are helping some of the poorest people on the planet live longer and more prosperous live.

  • In villages on Ginnack, a remote island on the Gambia River, nurses have started using digital cameras to send images to doctors in a neighbouring town to speed up diagnosis and treatment.

  • In the small Peruvian village of Chincheros, a net-enabled partnership with a large exporter has produced a five-fold increase in village income and led to its produce being sold in New York.

  • In Madhya Pradesh in India, a computer network run for farmers in remote districts has slashed the running costs of many farms and ensured a faster response from state aid agencies.

    But the authors of the report acknowledge that in a world where one in five of the world's population lives on less than one dollar per day, and one in seven suffers from chronic hunger, it notes that there is still a lot of work to be done to make a significant difference.

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    See also:

    27 Jun 01 | UK Politics
    Labour warned over digital divide
    19 Mar 01 | dot life
    Bridging the digital divide
    22 Jul 00 | World
    G8 focus on digital divide
    17 Mar 01 | South Asia
    End digital divide, says Kofi Annan
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