Information and Communication Technologies
People in developed countries take for granted certain technological advancements. Unfortunately, this is not true in the developing world, where access to telecommunication systems, computers, or the Internet is just a luxury for the few, or next to impossible for everyone. The area of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) is wide and affects our socio-economic behaviour to a great extent. Having identified the importance of ICT in our everyday lives, the United Nations brought to life the UN-ICT Task Force. Its intention was "to lend a global dimension to the efforts previously made to bridge the global digital divide and to advance digital opportunity for all". On a report compiled by the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), it is clear that ICTs will become crucially important for sustainable development in developing countries. It is also arguable that although the costs of using ICTs to build national information infrastructures are high, the costs of not doing so are likely to be much higher. In the new era, knowledge, rather than labour, is the key element to sustainable societies. By enabling fast and low-cost collection, processing and dissemination of information, the new technologies have become essential to economic growth.
Similar to the world division we have witnessed after the industrial revolution, global development faces a new threat. The evolution of ICTs is so fast that even developed countries fail to closely follow, dividing their population within their very borders. Applying ICT in developing countries introduces further challenges. Although the level of experience in developed countries is invaluable, a long list of impediments slows any attempt of change. Scarcity of financial resources forces decision makers to first cover basic needs such as food, or medicine. Deep political corruptions also discourage further development or amelioration of education for their citizens. Purposely obstructing ICT development is also convenient for some. For example, lack of communication between areas allows secret plans to be easily implemented.
On top of the aforementioned socio-economic problems, applying engineering practices is still not straightforward. If not all, most of the infrastructure needed in ICT is dependent on electricity. It is a fact that there are countries where over 90 percentage of the population does not have reliable power connection to the grid. Providing low cost and low power devices is a priority, especially when renewable energy is the only source to power them up. Proper education, and training of the people is also important, since making a long term effect on local people's everyday lives means they will be able to use, administer, maintain, repair and further develop what we have initially provided them with.
Finally, when designing, analysing, and applying ICT solutions to developing countries; it would be beneficial to initially identify their needs instead of investing on projects we anticipate as useful. Naturally, we would expect engineers to spend time within their societies, but it is impractical. Communicating ideas instead with local representatives or members of their society though, will definitely benefit the results of any project. A large number of projects have been criticized in the past about their impact on local societies. Unfortunately, you cannot fully predict the outcome of a project, but it is advisable to always look for plans that will make the highest impact using the least resources.
To get involved and contribute to our ICT Community of Practice, sign up to the EWB-UK ICT Google group and click "join this group".
Engineers Without Borders UK work to date
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- Delivering on sustainability aspirations when building schools for the future: sharing findings from eco-footing programmes - Chris Cleaver and Peter Guthrie
- A case-study of drilling water wells illustrating the work of developing technologies - R Dennis and K Pullen (EWB-UK research conference 2009 presentation)
- International engineering contribution to slum upgrading projects in the developing world - Victoria Hickman
- Maximising the benefits of training engineers about gender - B Reed and S Coates
- ICTs for development: A social entrepreneur's perspective - 'Gbenga Sesan (presentation)
- These and many other research papers can be found on our Scribd account at: www.scribd.com/EWBUK ,
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Other interesting links
- Practical Action ICT work
- ICT for development - Eldis
- Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP)
- Itrain Online
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