Focusing ICT For Development : Narayan Prasad Ghimire
According to the latest data Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) shared, the internet penetration in Nepal has reached 44.11 percent- that is to say, 11 million of the total population have access to internet. Nepal currently has the population of nearly 28 million. Compared to the last year, the increase of internet users is more than 10 per cent.
This is indeed a laudable aspect. It has ensured people’s easy and quick access to information and interaction in the country and abroad. Access to information is the most positive and worth- celebrating point. Although the people with low level of education are limited to communication with relatives with the access to the most advanced gift of the science and technology-internet-, those who are aware of their rights are free to discuss and debate on any issue of public importance, holding the State agencies and officials accountable. An example here- through the internet with various applications and social media as Facebook and twitters, the people are now interacting with the high level officials including the Prime Minister, Nepal police and different ministries. They are constantly posting comments and criticisms on the posts/information shared by such high level people and mechanism. Moreover, massive participation of people in any hot topic has been a commonplace. Political parties and leaders are criticised for their shortcomings and lack of farsightedness. This way, the aware people, without any obstruction and permission, are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It is of course an optimum practice of democracy. It is therefore needless to say- the internet accelerates the free flow of information.
While talking about such salient features of the internet, one must not avoid the condition of those who are deprived of internet. To my knowledge, in Nepal, there are not any survey and study about the digital divide- the inequality in the distribution of the facility of internet among the people. More broadly, the digital divide is the disparity among the people on their access to the information and communication technology (ICT).
At a time when the internet penetration has increased, how about the patterns of its uses among different genders, among different economic and social classes, among diverse communities, among regions? It is a serious question Nepal needs to heed if it is to enjoy the full-fledged opportunities created by the internet. Although we have not exact data on these questions, there is a situation prevalent that we can easily say that the digital divide in terms of gender, socio-economic conditions, region (urban-rural) and community is high. It means the people in Nepal are not proportionately linked to internet which is again the indication that already privileged can be more privileged and those deprived will be further impoverished. It is consequently related to development gap.
What is worth mentioning here again is Nepal’s economic condition while zeroing in on development activities. At present, Nepal is undergoing a record low economic growth. Double hit by scourge of Gorkha earthquake and the economic embargo in the country, the economic activities are badly affected. In this connection, the government recently unveiled a White Paper sharing a harrowing reality that nearly 700,000 Nepalis have been pushed to poverty due to the Gorkha Earthquake, and it would be further exacerbated with the economic embargo imposed by India on Nepal. More appalling reality is- it has warned that Nepal’s plan of graduation to the developing country status from the LDC status by 2022 was likely to be aborted for disruption in economic activities. These two big incidents are not only impending economic activities but are also big setbacks on the development of country’s ICT sectors. Thinking about the ICT development at a condition the country is struggling to provide daily basic essentials to it people may be a distant topic. However, ignoring ICT in the name of other problems cannot be deemed judicious.
Although the role of uplifting the lives of marginalised and poor is not merely of government, it has a vital role on it. It can encourage the innovative activities taken by civil societies and cooperatives that heed the pathetic situation of those living in paucity. At this time, the technologists, policy makers and other stakeholders can come together to rid such people from plights. Many people inflicted with earthquake and bound to live without ICT facility don’t even have knowledge of facilities the government is providing to them. At such the ICT can be an effective tool to help them. Information on their entitlements can be ensured with the expansion of ICT and internet. It is just an example.
Gradually, Nepal is in need of building ICT infrastructure and reducing the digital gap among rich and poor, urban and rural, men and women and the diverse communities. Time has come to link internet to development by sharing internet benefits to education, social justice, health and transportation. After the essential sectors are linked with internet benefits, internet can be linked to economic activities as the developed countries do. Many developed countries like the EU members have a growing consensus that 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration results in an increase in GDP growth of between 0.9 to 1.5 percent.