Why Invest In ICT when there are people who still do not have enough to eat? This is a pressing question for all those concerned with the intersection of information and communications technology and development. In 1998, 108 out of every 1000 babies born in low-income countries died before their fifth birthday, 18 times the rate in high-income countries. Adult literacy rates were under 50% in almost 20 of the 34 low-income countries, and populations without access to safe water or sanitation reached as high as 69% in some low-income countries, with an overall average of 30%.
With these chilling realities in mind, how can investment in information and communications technology be justified? What will a computer do for someone who is hungry, sick, or illiterate? The answer is probably very little today, but the benefits tomorrow are potentially enormous.
Among the various digital opportunities, nations able to harness the benefits of ICT enjoy access to global markets, which spurs GDP growth; greater access to educational opportunities and up-to-the minute medical information, which improves standards of living; and a means of monitoring the government to ensure protection of human rights.
Furthermore, a country that chooses not to board the "Internet Express" in order to respond to the immediate emergency needs of its people, runs the risk of being further and further marginalized, and possibly left out of the new global market and its economic and social opportunities.
The consensus among member countries, as outlined in the Report of the high-level panel of experts on information and communication technology " is not whether to respond to the challenges brought about by the revolution in ICT, but how to respond and how to ensure that the process becomes truly global and everyone shares the benefits."
In general, the strategy deemed most effective comprises a combination of basic needs and ICT development. By investing in both the immediate needs of the country, such as education, healthcare and the environment, as well as the creation of an ICT friendly environment through infrastructure and policies, nations are able to meet the needs of the people while keeping one eye on the future, and not missing the "Internet Express."
Some countries, such as Cuba, have even managed to combine the two.