Technology's Role in Fighting Poverty


In 2000, some 193 member countries of United Nations (UN) resolved to pursue eight international development objectives under a broad international development program called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The MDGs outlined global development objectives ranging from eradicating extreme poverty to fighting the spread of disease — from achieving meaningful social progress to establishing a worldwide partnership for development.

The UN agreement places particular emphasis on the internet as an essential component in the global effort to improve the access of the world’s poor to those tools that have become necessary for a productive life.  

The internet can help eradicate poverty

Those who have never known real poverty will find it difficult to imagine how some 1.2 billion impoverished people throughout the planet live their lives.  The poorest of the poor live under conditions of extreme squalor.  They have no adequate food, and fall victim to disease.  Their children are sickly, and many do not reach the age of five.  In some of the poorest corners of the world, entire communities are without access to technology newer than the artesian pump and the plow.

Technology's Role in Fighting Poverty

“Through both simple and sophisticated techniques, the internet can help eradicate poverty, educate people, sustain the environment and create healthier communities,” Sha Zukang, UN Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, told participants of the Internet Governance Forum held in Vilnius, Lithuania, back in September 2010.

The UN has repeatedly urged the governments of the developing world to utilize the internet in their efforts to reduce poverty and eradicate disease.  The organization has likewise made vigorous appeals to the private sector for greater cooperation in field of information technology.  Some progress has been made toward this end as internet coverage in the developing world has seen swift expansion in recent years.  Developing regions now account for two-thirds of the world’s internet users. 

The results have been encouraging.  In the Southern Philippines, development workers assessing the needs of the poor in hinterland jungle areas are now able to communicate with decision-makers in Manila through RingCentral online fax and mobile devices, allowing faster and more precise delivery of aid and support services.  Similar advances are being made elsewhere in Asia and South America. 

More work ahead

But while the UN says many of the key objectives that the organization had set for its member nations under the MDG program have already been met, the organization is quick to add that much more needs doing. The UN estimates that some 850 million people throughout the planet are still unable to purchase adequate food.   Some 2.5 billion more live in areas that have no basic sanitation facilities.

Living conditions in these areas are shocking.  Disease is rampant and child mortality rates are exceedingly high.  Nearly 4,000 impoverished children die every day in the developing world as a result of diseases caused by inadequate sanitation facilities, according to UNICEF.              

The precise role of information technology in alleviating the suffering of the poor is still subject to debate outside the UN.  The past few decades have seen an explosion of unforgettable, world-altering events.  New technology has wrought many changes, but it is clear that we are — at least in some places — still burdened by problems akin to those of the Stone Age.

The UN nevertheless hopes that expanding the reach of technologies such as the internet will help bridge the gap that divides rhetoric and reality in the developing world, where politics and corruption too often pose a hindrance to social development.  There is basis for hope in this, because — as we have witnessed time and again these past decades — technology is at its finest and most compelling when directed toward the achievement of our better aspirations.

Henry Conrad is a 29-year-old game developer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aside from gaming and being a tech junky, he also dabbles in creative writing, which allows him to create great storylines and backgrounds for his characters. Follow me on Twitter and join me in Google +

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