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Role of Information Communication Technologies in Poverty Alleviation

Poverty is regarded as the state of human beings who are poor. That is, those who have little or no material means of surviving—little or no food, shelter, clothes, healthcare, education, little or no money and few or no material possessions; and deprived of essential goods and services such as adequate housing, shelter, employment, access to required social services and social status; and meaningful participation in society.

Poverty is not a new social problem and it occurs in both developing and developed countries, even though it is much more widespread in the developing world.  It has been with us since civilization. The Bible says in Matthew 26, verse 11, “for you have the poor with you always, but me, you do not have always.” And Galatians 2 vs. 10 makes similar reference to the existence of the poor. This is an indication that poverty is not a new problem. What has changed about poverty is how it manifests itself and societal response to the needs of the poor.

Factors such as food insecurity, drought and flooding, climate change, armed conflicts, among others, have been seen to have exacerbated poverty and social inequality in the world.

With the launching of the new 17 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations (also known as the Global Goals), the focus turns to information and communication technologies (ICTs), which many experts believe can help end poverty and reduce social inequality in all its forms everywhere; end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture; ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages; ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all; build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation; reduce inequality within and among countries; make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; take urgent action to combat climate change ; conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss; promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

In the discourse on ICT and poverty reduction, two opposing traditions within development theory have been presented in the literature. These scenarios capture two prominent positions within the discourse on ICT and poverty reduction. One scenario argues that ICT enables developing countries to leapfrog stages of development and increase their competitiveness faster.  A number of Asia Pacific economies such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea are cited as having adopted this path.  People like Negroponte and Primo Braga suggest developing countries could reap the same benefits that ICTs enables in developed countries by investing into fully digitized networks rather than continuing to expand their outdated analogue-based infrastructure.

The second scenario argues that certain economies are unable to keep up with the technological developments and this leads to an increasing digital divide within and between countries. Experts like Bedia and Hamelink have labelled these two ICT positions as optimism/pessimism or utopia/dystopia.  Both scenarios see ICT as having either detrimental or highly beneficial impacts on the position of developing countries. This is what a writer like Heeks refers to as technological determinism.

In spite of the above perspectives  ICTs have been embraced as a key solution to poverty alleviation. Fact is, poverty will not be eradicated without the use of ICT. And, poverty reduction strategies will have limited impact if the large segment of the poor in the developing world are excluded from reaping the benefits of the information society. The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development recognised “that the new IT and new approaches to and use of technologies by people living in poverty can help in fulfilling social development goals.”

Through the use of ICT, new sources of revenue could be generated from the villages and cities of the developing world. This could promote both village and urban enterprise development that will intend foster development and alleviate poverty.

Dr. Gmelch and Reuel Daniels of Union College comment on how the Internet provides indigenous peoples with opportunities that simply did not exist before. They point to how specific websites provide several indigenous artisans in various countries with links to people in remote villages to sell their crafts to customers around the globe. The age of village electronic commerce is here.  Developing countries should therefore reexamine its untapped resources to see how it could use the new technology of today to move it from where it is today to where it wants to be tomorrow. This approach will have profound implications for economic development and poverty alleviation.

A number of developing countries have launched ICT for development ((ICT4D) initiatives, and the focus of some of these initiatives have been aimed at poor people (ICT4P), to create awareness, provide access, and use ICT in several creative ways to reduce poverty.

A major cause of poverty in the developing world could be attributed to ‘information poverty’ –the lack of access to information and knowledge that could improve earnings potential. Exposing poor people to information and knowledge provides them with a powerful weapon to deal with their situation. Thus, there is the need to implement measures that will create awareness, increase access to and improve the use of ICT among the poor.

Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President

African Virtual Campus

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