Volume 14, No.5 - May 2010

Feature articles

Affordable transportation and safer use of chemicals


In developing countries, the lack of adequate transport infrastructure and affordable transport services contribute to poverty and pose major obstacles to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Similarly, the increasing production and consumption of chemicals in those countries strain their capacity for sound management.

Both transportation and chemicals are essential for sustainable development in developing countries and thus both thematic issues will be on the forefront at the 18th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-18), which will take place from 3-14 May at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The review session will also focus on waste management (hazardous and solid waste), mining, and the 10 year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production.

Major obstacles to transportation

Inadequate transport infrastructure and lack of access to affordable transport services are often cited as factors that perpetuate poverty while posing major obstacles to countries’ progress towards the achievement of the MDGs, particularly in rural areas. According to World Bank estimates, more than 1 billion people living in rural areas still do not have access to adequate transportation and 98 per cent of them are in developing countries.

Within the developing countries, rural communities are particularly affected by transportation problems. Physical isolation is a strong contributor to poverty and the marginalization of rural communities. Small-scale and subsistence farmers, women and children are particularly affected. A disproportionate burden is placed on rural women, especially those living in regions of sub-Saharan Africa, who spend a major part of the day in travel and transport just to meet household subsistence needs.

Rural roads are characterized by light traffic (fewer than 50 vehicles per day) and include engineered roads and bridges, as well as trafficable tracks and trails. The main purpose of people taking trips in rural areas is to buy provisions, sell crops/products, pursue education, process agricultural products, fetch water, collect fuel wood, access medical care, visit family and friends, commute to places of work and obtain official documentation. The most commonly used transport modes remain motorcycles, bicycles, barrows, carts, small boats and walking, often with goods loaded on the back or head. Owing to low population densities in remote rural areas, adequate public transport services are rarely available.

However, as demonstrated by the success of the large-scale rural roads project sponsored by the Government of India and the World Bank, basic rural transport infrastructure and services can significantly improve rural farm and non-farm incomes. The impact of rural road programmes on rural employment and income generation can be ensured through the use of appropriate technologies, local contractors, local workers and local materials. Disaster relief and food-for-work types of transport infrastructure project can also contribute to rural poverty reduction. For example, in Sri Lanka, through the Community bus project in Ratnapura district, people in three villages enjoy newer bus and improved road conditions as they continue to benefit from cheaper and more reliable access to the local school, health centre and market.

Transport and mobility are essential preconditions for sustainable development. Globally increased urbanization and motorization over the past several decades have resulted in an unprecedented rise in emissions, leading to degradation in living conditions worldwide and accelerating the process of climate change. Global population growth contributes further to these trends. Appropriate policy interventions can establish affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound transport systems.

It is crucial that multimodal systems emphasizing low-energy modes of transport are developed and that increased reliance is put on public transport systems. Transport is the largest end-use of energy in developed countries and the fastest growing one in most developing countries. Furthermore, adequate, efficient, and effective transport systems are important for access to markets, employment, education and basic services critical to poverty alleviation.

Chemical consumption increase demand for sound management

The increasing production and consumption of chemicals in developing countries and countries with economies in transition strains those countries’ capacity for sound management of chemicals. Sound chemicals management is frequently given low priority in development plans and is consequently under-resourced. In developing countries, two of the major problems in terms of chemical usage for sustainable development are lack of sufficient scientific information for risk assessment, and lack of resources of assessment of chemicals for which data are at hand.

One of the obstacles in reaching the goal of sound management of chemicals in developing countries is the widening gap in capacity between developed countries and others. For developing countries and countries with economies in transition, thus, one of the most important instruments for the prevention and control of illegal international traffic in chemicals is information-sharing.

While the responsibility to protect citizens from chemical risks rests mainly on national Governments, awareness of transboundary and global dimensions of the issues began to emerge by the early 1980s. These concerns were triggered by evidence of ozone depletion, the transboundary impact of acid rain and trade in hazardous materials, often to bypass strengthened regulations and restrictions in developed countries.

The possibility of dumping wastes in developing countries, many of which did not have appropriate technical, financial or institutional resources to manage the impact, led to a new round of action, this time at the international level, to regulate international trade in hazardous substances. Over time, these policy initiatives led to the incorporation of relevant provisions in trade agreements, and provisions for capacity-building, technological cooperation and information-sharing.

Countries need to make greater efforts to integrate fully the objectives of sound management of chemicals into national budgets and development cooperation. The link between chemical safety and sustainable development needs to be fully reflected in the funding decisions of bilateral development cooperation agencies.

In many instances, national legislation and policies on chemicals need to be reviewed, updated and strengthened. Where appropriate legislation is in place, there is a need to reinforce coordination mechanisms with international support and training on enforcement and compliance.


Integrated urban and rural transport planning, as well as supportive fiscal and regulatory policies, paired with the development of new technologies and greater international cooperation, are key factors for achieving a transport sector that meets the requirements for sustainable development.

In the field of chemicals management, national legislation and policies need to be updated. Lack of public awareness of potential health and environmental risks and lack of resources and human capacity to manage and reduce risks are challenges of increasing urgency. There is also an urgent need to strengthen cooperative action on emerging policy issues such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and e-waste to achieve a sustainable chemical sector.

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E-government to create opportunities for all


The current global financial and economic crisis is putting tremendous pressure on governments to do more with less. Although financial markets stabilized in 2009 due to massive and internationally coordinated government intervention, the real economy is still in a state of shock with high rates of unemployment and tremendous squeeze on government revenues in many countries. E-government – once a bold experiment and now an important tool for public sector transformation – has progressed to the point where it is now a force for effective governance and citizen participation, both at national and local levels.

With the Millennium Development Goal time horizon of 2015 quickly approaching, it is no longer a question of whether we can afford information and communications technology in health, education, environmental protection and a multitude of other areas, but where to deploy them first and how rapidly gains can be realized.

The “2010 United Nations e-Government Survey: Leveraging e-government at a time of financial and economic crisis” presents various roles for e-government in addressing the ongoing world financial and economic crisis. The public trust that is gained through transparency can be further enhanced through the free sharing of government data based on open standards.

The United Nations global survey of e-government presents a systematic assessment of the use and potential of information and communication technology to transform the public sector by enhancing transparency, efficiency, access to public services and citizen participation in all countries and at all levels of development. By studying broad patterns of e-government around the world, the report identifies leading countries in e-government development. It also suggests a way forward for those that have yet to take advantage of its tremendous power.

E-government at times of financial and economic crisis

Governments are deploying new information and communications technology in response to the global financial crisis. The effect of the crisis on the public sector has been profound. For governments, currently, the most critical issue is how to rebuild trust in a system of financial weaknesses and governmental responses that have proved so highly untrustworthy. Electronic government technologies have the potential to deliver creative options for policy-making processes as well as for the debates that surround them. E-government can act as a means of enhancing the capacity of the public sector, together with citizens, to address particular development issues.

According to the survey, the watchword of e-government is ‘citizen-centric practice’. For a country to be assessed favorably in relation to other countries, there needs to be solid evidence of an approach to e-government development that places citizens at the centre. On-demand access to information, services and social networks on the Internet through a personal computer is no longer considered cutting-edge in developed regions but a norm that many people take for granted.

The same may soon be true of the more advanced middle income countries. Cellular telephones and personal digital assistants have the potential to play the same role for developing countries if governments are able to come to terms with the changing face of technology and innovate with a citizen-centric mindset. For example, alerts sent through short message services (‘text messages’) are being used to notify citizens that a request for assistance has been processed.

The value of e-government will increasingly be defined by its contribution to development for all. Citizen-centricity, inclusiveness, connected government, universal access and use of new technologies such as mobile devices are the benchmarks against which electronic and other innovative forms of public service delivery will be assessed.

E-service delivery and the MDGs

The world economic crisis has savaged government finances. The situation calls for greater agility, efficiency and reach of public services, especially in the sectors of health, education, gender, environment and employment, which are important in their own right and central to achievement of the MDGs.

Poverty eradication is one of the most urgent and compelling development goals. The World Bank estimates that an additional 53 million people in developing countries will fall into poverty on top of the 130 million to 155 million who became poor due to the impact of the food and oil crisis in 2008. Therefore, enhancing employment opportunities is an important and urgent issue for the international community.

E-service delivery can contribute to efforts to address poverty, employment and the impacts of the financial and economic crisis. Governments can provide online public information services to job seekers and online vocational and technical training and entrepreneurial skills development for those who have lost or are at risk of losing their job as well as to vulnerable groups.

In addition, they can provide ICT-based assessment, tracking and monitoring of the activities of the unemployed through the various parts of the employment services system, which is useful in the current situation. These potential solutions need to be innovative and geared towards pro-poor services for poverty eradication and employment, especially in rural areas, where the majority of populations in developing countries live.

Women and e-government

Including women in economic development is an issue high on the current agenda of the international community. Access to the labour market has much to do with economic empowerment for women. Women are often in vulnerable employment and overrepresented in insecure, part-time and short-term jobs, including particularly, in the agricultural sector. As regards to women’s unemployment, the MDG Report 2009 highlights its critical importance and notes that the crisis may hold back progress towards gender equality by creating new hurdles to women’s employment.

E-government can be effectively leveraged for women’s economic empowerment and employment in the crisis. Employment-related e-government solutions include online provision of information on job opportunities for women, in particular for women who can use skills for the global digital economy beyond the limits of their local economy; online skills training for female jobseekers; and online distance learning.

E-government can also enhance information service delivery for much-needed women’s economic empowerment. It can help women to weather the crisis by disseminating information on income-generating opportunities, and by alerting women to other relevant information services.

Women need information about microenterprise loans and other forms of capital for female entrepreneurship, as well as local, regional and global market information and market pricing information. Indeed, uninterrupted flows of microfinance are key to the economic empowerment of women, especially in a time of decreased lending.

E-government can provide information about financial and other forms of assistance provided by governments, international donors and nongovernmental organizations. In addition to these information services, women need to know about online business training and support for women-headed microenterprises, online marketing assistance and online financial services.

A number of conditions would facilitate the delivery of information to women, including: public access like mobile Internet kiosks, especially in rural areas; free access to training on the use of technology; technological solutions that promote targeted access to women, such as voice recognition for people with little or no formal education, graphic interfaces and touch screens; and the provision of information that rural women in developing countries need in an accessible language and format.

Further recommendations

Short of devaluing currencies or defaulting on public debt, governments are finding themselves with few options as they try to balance diminished revenues and increased expenditures. E-government can play there a very important role. Just as technology has always been an important determinant of productivity in the broader economy, so too is the application of information technology in the rate and quality of public service delivery. In a time of economic stress, improved communications and faster response times can make a critical difference to those most at risk.

For example, social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as blogging software and mobile technology, allow governments to tap into the collective knowledge of society quickly and directly. In this way, citizens move from being passive consumers of government services to advisers and innovators contributing ideas that are in better accord with their individual and group needs.

Global collaboration is needed to succeed. With the leadership of United Nations Member States, e-government can become a global priority, creating opportunities for all.

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E-government to create opportunities for all

UN forum on indigenous issues calling for respect of values


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls Member States to promote development while respecting the values and traditions of indigenous peoples at the opening of the annual forum, held in New York from 19-30 April.

“The loss of irreplaceable cultural practices and means of artistic expression makes us all poorer, wherever our roots may lie,” Mr. Ban told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. This year’s theme at the forum was “Development with Culture and Identity.”