TODAY, THE world is revolutionized by the use of ICT and is recognized as a crucial element in the infrastructures to constitute a modern nation in many developed and underdeveloped countries. It adds value in development of any sector by reshaping, reorganizing and restructuring working methods in which they are used. Number of advanced ICT based solutions has been developed to assist in various fields. The evidence has indicated that ICT has potential to empower the quality of lives for people living in country. The United Nations Development Program (2001: section 2.1.1) refers to ICT as a “powerful enabler of development” because of the significant impact on the economic, scientific, academic, social, political, cultural and other aspects of life. It is rapidly transforming our lives, the way we interact, do business, access information/services, communicate with each other and entertain ourselves. It fuels the global economy which ultimately reduces poverty in country.
The ICT can play an effective role in poverty reduction by giving opportunities to poor people for improving their access to various business, education, health, government and financial services. The use of ICT for poverty reduction varies from country to country depending upon countrys limitation towards implementation of ICT. Many countries cant utilize the true potential of ICT due to non availability of resources and sufficient funds for infrastructure development. With these obstacles, developing countries can depend mainly on widely available technology like internet, television and radio that can reach a larger portion of population at relatively lower cost and requires very low level of skills.
A unanimous resolution adopted by the UN against poverty named as “The Millennium Declaration 2000”, highlighted the importance of ICT towards poverty reduction by making it a part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Its aims is “to Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger” so ICT is now becoming increasingly important in helping to achieve this goal. Although Pakistan has achieved some progress by using ICT in some areas e.g internet growth, computer and mobile phone usage etc but still it remains far behind the international standards in understanding and implementing ICT for development in the areas of health, education, agriculture, and national integration. No doubt, ICT bring tremendous opportunities with them but it requires proper infrastructure development which plays a key role in the implementation of ICT to reduce poverty in remote areas.
Use of ICT is not a magic cure for poverty reduction. However, it can help/facilitate in finding solutions of problems faced by poor community. ICTs have the potential of empowering people by providing them access to information. It opened new range of opportunities by providing access to information related to markets, health, and education sector. Furthermore, it can empower the poor by expanding the use of government services. An example of this can be utilization of information booths at various government offices like NADRA, Passport Office providing information to the citizens. This would help masses to save money, which they give to the private agents for getting information which is available to them through these booths. The government of Pakistan is promoting E-Government projects to enhance public participation and make procedures more transparent.
The quality of governance is critical to poverty reduction. ICT can be powerful tools for strengthening good governance to facilitate and enhanced government efficiency for the poor people. It can be used by government agencies to transform relations with citizens especially with those living in rural areas. It is difficult for rural citizens to travel long distances to approach government district headquarters in order to submit applications, meet officials, obtain hard copies for records etc. This involves the loss of a days income as well as the cost of transportation. With the use of ICT, it is possible to locate online service centers that provide services physically closer to citizens. ICT can facilitate speedy, transparent, accountable, efficient and effective interaction between the government, citizens, business and other agencies. This not only promotes better administration and better business environment, but also saves money in costs of transactions in government operations.
ICT, as a sector, creates employment opportunities directly to the poor both in the manufacturing of hardware and software. It empowers and helps small farmers and artisans in the rural areas by connecting markets to stay updated. Typically they are lack of access to information about prices, weather conditions, credit facilities, and market opportunities. ICT can remedy such information. In rural areas, most of people are milkman so with the help of ICT, computerized milk collection centers with integrated electronic weights, electronic fat testing machines, proper packing and plastic card readers are ensuring success to them. So now they sell directly in market instead of sell milk to dairy cooperatives. Concept of E-marketing, possible due to ICT, able to sell their cultural and hand made products online at national and international level while sitting in remote areas.
Micro financing is an important tool for helping the poor by introducing Smart card technology to reduce transaction and travelling costs as well as risks. Electronic banking services or easy credit card scheme identified as a solution for eliminating paperwork, reducing errors, fraud and meeting time, enables poor people to obtain easy and timely loans and help microfinance institutions reach clients more efficiently.
The ICT can improve health care services to the poor by online consultation and reducing poverty that can originate from poor health. Telemedicine can diminish the cost and hardship of long distance traveling for medical checkup. Now one can get medical advice from doctors by sitting at home at minimal cost. Furthermore, ICT can simplify medical data collection, record management and paper filing. Telemedpak, and Pakmedinet are two main websites providing telemedicine services to the public. Both are providing online services and are creating awareness about telemedicine. Use digital camera to take pictures of symptoms for Telemedicines examination. Data such as X-rays are compressed and sent to various parts of the world for getting opinion from specialized doctor. Radio is one of the most accessible technologies related to ICT. It can be relevant for health interventions by broadcasting or delivering timely information on diseases/immunization on Radio, which playing a crucial role in creating awareness to fight against diseases as well as on other issues in rural/backward areas.
Virtual, open, distance learning based school/colleges/Universities is remarkable achievement due to ICT which provide quality education/skills to home base students with limited resources, funds and voluntary assistance which provides them better opportunities for jobs.
Considering language as the main barrier in accessing ICT, the government need to develop software to facilitate people living in backward areas in local languages which are easy to understand and use as well as develop tools like Urdu fonts, proprietary software for Urdu on Windows XP and commercially developed Urdu word processors.
Pakistan has a huge potential and can still take advantage of ICT revolution in development process if it makes a road map about the use of ICT in the areas of education, health, agriculture and governance. The government should follow a pragmatic approach and use all available technologies for poverty reduction. However it takes time, does not take place overnight. Richard Gerster said “Poverty reduction is possible simply by the use of a new technology is the exception but not the rule. Often social and political change is needed as well.”
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