A guest post by Emma Caton, @Emma_wildsci.
The internet. Where would we be without it?
A question I often ask myself when catching up with friend’s online, sharing photos and videos, and when I once again turn to google to find out how to boil an egg or where the nearest pharmacy is.
Here in the UK, our generation has grown up with the incredibly quick and easy to access pool of information that is the internet. In the past two decades it has become an incredible tool for communicating with people far and wide, making us more connected than ever before and enabling us to share experiences and promote ideas that could potentially change the world.
But above all, the internet has given us knowledge. Now a key pool of information for our basic needs, connectivity brings the information that we need right to our fingertips, helping us look for job opportunities and training, to find out how we can stay fit and healthy, and where to get help when we need it.
Billions of people, in fact around 60% of the global population, still remains unconnected today. Unsurprisingly, from the 2012 reports by the international telecommunication union, just 1 in 3 people in developing nations can access the internet with the lowest penetration levels, averaged at just 6%, being in central Africa.
Talks on the importance of getting internet access over to central Africa has sparked much controversy among many groups of people. However, if done right it can be used as a fantastic tool for development, driving economic progress and potentially lifting a community out of poverty. The point is, in a world that is increasingly going online, small business in these areas can benefit from this essential resource to improve job efficiencies and expand their market.
The key to achieving this is children. Children in particular are able to utilise these technologies in a way that could lead to innovation and change. I highlight the very notable work by UNICEF to teach children in remote locations how to use these technologies and the benefits that connectivity can bring. By providing solar powered computers, one of UNICEFs schemes known as ‘voices of youth’ encourages children to find out information that can greatly improve their health, safety and future. Other notable innovations include the global partnership Internet.org, which is also setting up projects in remote regions to boost connectivity, and also Google’s investment of $3 billion in 180 low orbit satellites aiming to bring connectivity to some of the poorest areas of the world.
The benefits that connectivity can bring to a community, both social and economic, is important for growth in developing communities. An increased health literacy could boost a countries life expectancy, and internet usage for small businesses such as agriculture and fishing could increase the average income per person by up to 15%, potentially lifting 160 million people out of poverty!
But when it comes to international development we need to stay positive and think about what more needs to be done. It gives me hope to think that although most central African countries have the lowest percentage people connected, it is also showing the most rapid penetration growth rate, thanks to initiatives currently being carried out. But as such a huge proportion of the world still remains offline, it means more needs to be done. I’m not saying the internet can solve the world’s problems, and by no means am I saying that it should be listed as the single most important initiative for international development. But if it has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty, then I say let’s connect the world!
Acknowledgements: The case for connectivity: by Alec Ross / The International telecommunication union: 2012 report
Emma’s recent TEDx talk on this topic will shortly be available here.
Currently a student studying for her BSc Zoology degree at the University of Leeds, Emma has always had a great interest in global conservation and international development. Emma has a strong interest in science communication and enjoys sharing stories and discussing current issues on her radio show ‘Natural World’ on Leeds Student Radio and her online blog: eyeonwildlife.co.uk. You can contact Emma directly by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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