IT Essential For Developing Countries

[19 January 2001] – Speaking at the Dubai Emerging Markets Economic Forum (EMEF) on Electronic Commerce, Donald J. Johnston, Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, said that while the Digital Divide has widened, information and communication technology (ICT) is essential for the advancement of developing countries.

Johnston said that in October 1997 the ratio of Internet hosts to population was 270 times more in North America than in Africa; by October 2000 the difference had increased to a multiple of 540.

But while there is a very real technological gap between 1st and 3rd world countries, these technologies were key to narrowing and eventually eliminating the gap between developed and developing countries.

ICT can bring about increased domestic growth and international trade, can improve the efficiency of government and public service and advance the cause of science science as it applies to developing nations- through the exchange of information between peers and professionals and advances such as telemedicine.

But first 2 problems have to be tackled. The first is infrastructure difficulties, as many developing countries lack adequate telecommunications structures. But, just as technology has created this handicap for emerging nations trying to take their place in the international community, technologies like solar power and satellite connectivity can remove that handicap by allowing countries to move beyond, for example, the need for fixed-line connectivity.

The second problem is a suitable institutional and legal environment that promotes the development of ICT. Education, a legal and tax-system friendly to entrepreneurs and an effective policy on competition were highlighted as important to countries hoping to develop ICT.

He noted that both the private sector and governments are crucial to developing ICT; governments must create a nurturing environment, develop infrastructure and spurt growth by spending on public ICT projects and providing low-cost developmental loans. The private sector must take advantage of technology and creatively apply it to cross-border business, but also to finding solutions to problems unique to the developing world and the countries that make it up.

The Dubai EMEF was held on 16-17 January, 2001.

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