Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

Digital Divide Leaves Millions Stranded

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2016 (IPS) - By 2020, approximately 3.8 billion men and women across the developing world will be connected to the Internet through mobile phones, but 40 per cent of the population will still lack access.

“The digital divide remains a yawning gulf that leaves the poor, those living in rural areas, and a disproportionate number of women – stranded on the wrong side,” David Nabarro, UN Secretary-General’s Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, told attendees at the Mobile World Summit in Spain.

“Mobiles do not merely contribute to development – they are an important dimension of development,” he continued.

The Mobile World Summit, held in Barcelona on 22 February, brought together 400 business leaders and government officials to discuss the significance of mobile technologies in the provision of essential services and actions to connect the unconnected.

While delivering Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, Dr. Nabarro highlighted the need to close the digital divide, stating: “As we embark on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I count on your industry to work with Governments and the international community to expand connectivity, lower barriers to access and ensure that tools and applications are developed with vulnerable communities in mind.”

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), approximately 4.3 billion people in the world do not use the Internet. Of this population, 90 percent live in the developing world.

Though access to the Internet through mobile phones has steadily increased, the gap between developed and developing nations remains large, with 84 percent in the former and 21 percent in the latter. Even within developing nations, both gender and urban-rural divides persist.

This is partly due to the lack of mobile signal in rural areas, revealed ITU in its report titled ‘Measuring the Information Society.’ At the end of 2012, around 450 million people globally still lived out of reach of a signal. Additionally, across the developing world, almost 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet.

Ban also urged industries to collaborate to responsibly use data for humanitarian and development purposes. The secretary-general particularly cited the success of the UN Global Pulse initiative which has studied how mobile data can be used to map and reduce the spread of food insecurity, create informed disaster management and response plans, and understand the impacts of climate change.

During the Summit, the Vodafone Foundation introduced its new scheme called Instant Charge, a portable outdoor mobile charger that can charge up to 66 devices simultaneously. The equipment was developed in response to the high number of refugees with smart phones but limited infrastructure to charge such devices on European shores.

“When the Vodafone Foundation, alongside UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency], assessed how it could help, one of the requests from refugees was: ‘Where can I charge my mobile?” said Vodafone Foundation Instant Network Programme Manager Oisin Walton.

This, in addition to the provision of wireless Internet in the Lesbos and Samos islands in Greece, which allow refugees to share life-saving information about traffickers and safe routes through Europe.

Included in the SDGs are commitments to increase affordability and access to information and communications technology.


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