Tag Archives: UN

All in Eight Boxes

As an International Development major, I’ve been familiar with the Millennium Development Goals for quite some time. The United Nations’ MDGs have always seemed like a fairytale to me. The goals paint a glossy picture of what they (whoever decided on these outlandish goals) think the world should look like. They categorized the goals into eight wonderful boxes and asked the world to accept them.

Though it seems nice, we can not shove all of the world’s problems into  eight boxes. Many of the problems are too complex  and interconnected to be put in different categories. While the first category, “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” seems over simplified by placing these two problems together.

Hunger and poverty are absolutely intertwined, but they don’t necessarily have to be. As an avid gardener, I believe we can be rich in food even if we are poor by the rest of the world’s standards. Not everything has to be solved within the system we have now; not everything has to go through the economy. Not everything can be put into boxes.

Something interesting I came across while researching the MDGs was a map. The UN has created a map to monitor the progress of the goals. This map below shows the percentage of the population who are undernourished. Surprisingly, Canada and India are very close at 8.9% and 8.6%. The map also shows Spain at 24.0% and Côte d’Ivoire at 5.0%. Take a look and make conclusions for yourself by comparing the countries.

Percentage of population undernourished

In the end, we like having everything in boxes and categories because it makes the problems seem less daunting and easily conceptualized. However, here lies the real issue. If we convince ourselves that these problems are less complex than they really are then there is no hope of solving them

Measuring ICT Development

A lot of the indicators that we looked at in the different reports including, the ITU Measuring Info Society, the UN ICT Task Force, the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report, and the Economist Intelligence Unit Digital Economy Rankings all have different ways to classify the changes in ICT development. Since there is no universal way to measure ICT usage it is impossible to measure ICT development. This directly relates to what we are discussing in class because when discussing how ICTs can impact development, and looking at the development in different countries, there needs to be a universal way to classify and measure ICT development. Without a universal way to measure ICT development and ICT usage, it is impossible to compare countries ICT capacities. Similarly, without a universal way to measure ICT usage and development there is no way to clearly quantify the progress or changes a country has made.

In this class we are looking at technological capabilities of different countries and looking at how technology can be used for development. Without a universal indicator how will we really be able to compare the different progress between countries? We can’t decipher how technology can help a country or improve development if there is no clear way to measure the technological capabilities. The international community or UN body, needs to decide the best ways to measure ICT usage. This can be either subscribers or users or even by the amount of cell towers that a country has. By creating a solid definition, we then will be able to compare ICT usage of different nations in a way where they are being measured in the same way. If nations don’t know exactly what they need to report, then all of the reports will be different.

The report that has come closest with measuring ICT development is the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report. This is because the way they calculated the rankings was the most comprehensive. The report consists of 10 different pillars, each with at least 4 sub pillars. However, the problem with this ranking system is that the majority of the information in this report is provided by each individual country. For example, one of the sub pillars is the number of individuals using the internet. Since there is not a clear definition of what this means (whether it means subscriptions, or accounts, or households etc.) how is indicator properly showing which countries have better developed ICTs? Every country could be using a different set of criteria to calculate these numbers, and this is where the inherent problem lies.

The WFP and GIS

The World Food Programme or WFP is the branch of the UN associated with food aid. It is currently the largest humanitarian organization focusing on ending world hunger, by delivering food aid to people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot obtain their own food. They provide food to over 90 million people annually, over half of whom are children.

The WFP is not a stranger to using GIS systems for aid initiatives. The organizations Operation Department of Emergency Preparedness, or ODEP for short, considers GIS “an invaluable tool for both the mitigation of natural disaster and the coordination of response operations.” according to Adrea Amparore ODEP’s GIS analyst.

ODEP uses GIS technology to create a better picture of the dangers among people living in disaster prone areas. They analyze a variety of factors including historical occurrences of disasters, food security/insecurity, famine and hunger, and environmental degradation. Growing seasons and crop production are also monitored by satellite images to help the ODEP identify when times of decreased production/low crop yields etc. This ongoing monitoring and analysis enables the WFP to be able to intervene to prevent/lessen disasters when needed.

The WFP is constantly monitoring the four stages of the “disaster cycle,” and does this with the help of GIS’s. The four steps as stated by Aparore and the way GIS’s are used throughout are:

  1. Prevention: “includes the evaluation of man-made features, such as dams and levees, to make sure they can withstand rising floodwater, as well as determining the structural integrity of buildings, the reseeding of hillsides after deforestation to reduce mudslides, the evaluation of building codes and land-use zones to make sure they meet current safety standards, instigating community awareness campaigns to help residents better prepare themselves in the event of a disaster, and so on.”
    GIS’s are used in this step to aid in the planning of projects/interventions, data collection and review, and implementation of these interventions.
  2. Preparedness: Preparedness includes risk identification and assessment; the development and maintenance of emergency communication services; stockpiling essential food supplies, water, and medicine; and the establishment of evacuation routes.
    GIS’s are used in this stage to evaluate risks, determining the best places for emergency food stores in accordance with evacuation plans and coming up with the most efficient and safe evacuation plans.
  3. Response: The response step is pretty self explanatory, it is the actual actions taken in the event of a disaster.
    GIS’s are used in this step to predict the ongoing effects of the disaster and how it will develop, monitoring human movements and interventions, tracking the efficiency of these interventions, and allotting resources.
  4. Recovery: This step includes the establishment of temporary relief and assessing the destruction followed by repairing and rebuilding.
    GIS’s are used in this step to increasing efficiency in aid distribution. More specifically prioritizing where recovery endeavors are needed most. Also, GIS’s are used to coordinate the placement of aid distribution centers and to evaluate the regrowth and rebuilding until on the ground operations return to normal and the cycle repeats itself.

Moving forward, the WFP is looking to standardize the data it collects with GIS’s in order to make it usable for organizations around the world. Amparore says, “Standardization is the key to the continued growth of GIS at the WFP. This will allow us to expand our analytical capabilities and adopt an even greater scientific approach to data analysis.” Throughout my study of ICT4D and development in general, a unfortunately glaring theme that I have noticed is the lack of efficiency in relief and development efforts. GIS looks to be a great way to increase efficiency of aid efforts at all steps of the disaster cycle. Bringing a more scientific approach into the planning, implementation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation stages of development seems to me to be the way forward. Just like farmers who bring GIS onto their farms to lessen product runoff/crop wasting, aid programmes and relief efforts can use GIS to work towards decreasing error and increasing efficiency. This should lead them to also see a higher “yield” in people saved/positively effected by aid relief.

Link to the WFP website: Here
Link to the GIS WFP article: Here

Demand Driven ICT Industry: The Case of Morocco

Currently classified as a low middle-income country, Morocco ranks 10th among 16 Arab states for ICT development, and is seeking to transition to a digitally literate information society in order to facilitate its economic growth and global competitiveness. While the absence of such a transformation precludes Morocco’s inclusion in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Digital Economy rankings, the UN ICT Task Force report identifies Morocco as a high demand country for ICTs. The 85.82% penetration rate of mobile phone subscribers for 2010 indicates that Morocco’s population is becoming increasingly literate in terms of ICT technologies, as does the 60% growth in the number of Internet subscribers from 2005 to 2010. From these figures it reasonable to expect that data on Morocco’s digital economy will be available in the future.

A primary focus of Morocco’s national ICT policy is the harnessing of ICT as a means to improve business productivity. Since Morocco is already a leading destination for Francophone call centers, the government wants to capitalize on this and other areas in which Morocco has demonstrated strong potential for export. Open Society Foundations suggests that increasing offshoring and call centers in Morocco stands to add 0.3 percent annually to GDP growth from 2003 to 2018, reducing the international trade deficit by around 35 percent and create 100,000 new jobs. According to the World Bank, high-technology exports as a percentage of manufactured exports accounted for 8% of Morocco’s GDP in 2010, the most recent available data. After falling from its high of 11% in 2003, high-technology exports plunged to 6% in 2008 from 9% in 2007. This dramatic drop was likely due to the global financial crisis and consequent contraction of investment across the board. Since then, it has been increasing steadily, and will likely continue to add to Morocco’s economy in the future.

The greatest challenge for Morocco is also an opportunity with significant growth potential. Morocco ranked 114th of 144 countries in the skills readiness sub-index of World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report for 2013. Despite these inadequacies in the population’s ICT skills, education initiatives suggest promising developments on the horizon, and positive responses in ICT demand indicate a growing interest in these technologies that Morocco can harness to further industry growth. In order for Morocco to best improve its capacity for ICT it needs to address this disconnect between a high demand for ICT technologies and a low rate of ICT skills within the population and workforce.

UN Reviews MDGs: Lesson Learned?

While this past week we discussed the MDGs, I thought it would be particularly interesting to see the official United Nations report on its own shortcomings. Though the U.N. describes the Millennium Declaration as “visionary” and “powerful”, though it seems that the most the organization can pride itself on is “progress” and “inspiration” even though it cites the inconsistencies of this progress. What I found most striking was, all of a sudden, this progress became hard to measure, though it seems as though this is a way to shift focus off the lack of achievement of these MGDs.The perceived strengths include providing framework and raising awareness of these plaguing issues, as well as uniting forces to achieve common goals. However, the lack of “consideration” of different starting points and cultural enablers. What I found shocking was that they failed to consult more experts/ locals on how to implement goals. The document seems to imply that for the amount of consideration and planning put into the MDGs, respectable progress was made. However, I would’ve expected an organization like the U.N., to have put more thought into implementation and conceptualization before making such lofty goals.

As far as it’s connection to this class goes, it makes me wonder about the bond between ICT4D and the MDGs. How crucial are ICTs to MDGs, or is this a way of showing us that ICTs are not the solution to our development problems?

ICT + MDGs: Resources


Source: ICTworks’ website

The United Nations’ Asian Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development provides and outstanding list of resources that explain how ICT can help us achieve the Millennium Development Goals – especially Goal 8. This page contains studies that address topics such a: the gender divide and technology, youth and ICT4D, ICTs and Democracy, ICTs and the environment, ICT and Human development, etc.

The page serves as a great resource for academics, practitioners and students seeking for rigorous analytical studies that provide meaningful insights on the potential of ICT to consciously accelerate the development process. The study  titled “A Digital Shift: Youth and ICT for development” is one of the most interesting documents on the site. It is not a secret that youth are major consumers of new technologies and this study provides a fresh perspective on how the youth through ICT can contribute to the achievement of the MDGs.

Additionally, I also want to share an old but meaningful article published on ICTworks’ website. The title of the article is “5 ways ICT can support Millennium Development Goals.” This article also explains the importance of engaging youth in the development process. Ultimately the youth will be the biggest beneficiaries of our current and future development achievements; hence, making them active participants of the development process should be common sense.

L’Union Internationale des Télécommunications


The author of this week’s reading assignment, WSIS National E-Strategies for Development, is The International Telecommunication Union, commonly referred to as the (ITU). It is in fact the specialized agency of the United Nations for Information Communication Technologies- or ICTs. Based in Geneva, Switzerland as a member of the United Nations Development Group, it shares the same bureaucratic status as UNICEF, UN-Habitat, and the UN World Food Programme. The current head of the ITU is Hamadoun Touré, and it operates within a framework of 193 member states with around 700 Sector Members and Associates.

Within this framework, the ITU attempts to connect the world through its three core divisions. The first, ITU-R, which stands for “Radiocommunication,” manages the international radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources. The second, ITU-T is the sector devoted to Standardization or ‘standards making’ in addition to being the organizations oldest activity. Before 1992 this division was known as CCITT before it was shortened to its present day acronym. The third, ITU-D, stands for Development, and was created in order to help spread more sustainable access to information and communication technologies- aka ICTs. In addition to these sectors, ITU TELECOM exists to help coordinate major evens for the world’s ICT community.

The organization took its current acronym from its older full name, the International Telegraph Union, back when it was originally chartered in Paris, France in 1865. As technology has expanded and improved over time, their work has evolved from the telegraph, then to analog, and currently to digital technologies, including digital broadcasting, the Internet, mobile devices, and 3D broadcasting.

The sector that we will be dealing with here on this blog will be primarily the work of ITU-D as we discuss and dissect the current and historical work of development professionals around the globe. For more information on the ITU please visit their website and take a closer look at their history.

ICTs and e-Health for Women’s and Children’s Health

On Oct. 2, the UN’s ITU (International Telecommunication Union) will hold a workshop in Bangkok that explores the role of ICT and e-Health.

This workshop is one of the many attempts to get developing countries to reach the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations for 2015. As the closing year of the MDG program nears, UN agencies are doing what they can to help countries make the final push to reach the goals they had set a few years ago.

Measuring ICT: The Global Status of ICT Indicators

After the 2003 World Summit on Information Society in Geneva the world saw a need to make the tools for measuring and monitoring progress using ICT indicators.  The UN sent out a questionnaire that explored the “official information society” statistics to 179 developing countries, of which 86 answered completely. The results are organized in a report in the following seven sections: ICT household indicators, ICT indicators in the business sector, status of ICT indicators in Africa, status of ICT indicators in Central Asia and Central and Eastern European countries, status of ICT indicators in Western Asia, status of ICT indicators in Asia-Pacific, status of ICT indicators in Latin America and the Caribbean. The ICT household indicators section has information on the sources of information, the survey vehicles, availability of the 20 indictors, as well as the differences in social classifications for the ICT statistics. The business sector uses different methods of surveying and other information techniques to see how ICT indicators are in the business sector. While all the other sections above did not get as much as a response and further research and information is needed before more analysis.  The actual questionnaire was divided in four main parts and mainly focused on the “institutional and technical systems established” for monitoring ICT statistics, ignoring details on key metadata on the indicator level. After all the different reports were presented regionally in different formats they were standardized and made into a common framework. The report is trying to help understand the ICT situation for different regions depending on their income and GDP levels. One of the goals was to get a consensus for a universal set of core ICT indictors, make a better statistical capacity in developing nations, and make a global database for core ICT indictors. These reports help as they make it easier for one it see progress in ICT use and availability as well as make inferences on poverty. It also allows nations to see where they are lacking and how they compare to others. A universal set of core indicators would also make it easier in general to monitor and evaluate the information society (and other things) and ICT capability. For instance Africa had a low response rate with only 19 out of 52 nations answering, a total of 42% of the regional population. South Africa is shown to have a lower middle income and medium access, which is higher than many of the other African nations, but still failed to answer much of the questionnaire. This shows that South Africa and the African region need to improve on answering such questionnaires so that universal core indicators can be set and monitored. Although not fully successful the report was very factual and is a good base for future research.

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What is the UN ICT Task Force?

The UN ICT Task Force was established by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001.  It is a multi-stakeholder institution and includes participants from both the developed and developing world. In addition, the UN ICT Task force works closely with WSIS and the World Economic Forum. Many members of the ICT Task Force come from top computer development companies, including Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Nokia, Siemens, and Sun Micro Systems. These large companies also collaborate with a select groups of NGOs and a small UN secretariat, creating a fairly diverse membership.

This group is then divided into four working groups:

1.ICT Policy and Governance

2. Enabling Environment

3. Human Resource Development and Capacity Building

4. ICT Indicators and MDG Mapping

The main objective of the ICT Task Force is to provide policy advice to governments and international organizations, informing them on what ICTs realistically can and cannot do, in order to help combat the digital divide. On the ICT Task Force’s intro page, they summarize their mission as:

“One of the most pressing challenges in the new century is to harness this extraordinary force, spread it throughout the world, and make its benefits accessible and meaningful for all humanity, in particular the poor. The principal mission of this Task Force is to tell us how we might accomplish this ambitious goal.”

One interesting project of the UN ICT Task Force was the “Challenge to Silicon Valley,” issued by Kofi Annan in 2002. The challenge was for top companies in Silicon Valley to create ICT solutions that could be created at a price point low enough that they could be deployed anywhere in the world. The companies responded to the challenge, although by 2004, only a handful of UN programs were using ICTs.

The UN ICT TF also produces several publications on effective ICT policy and use and leads many workshops and the many dimensions of and possibilities for ICTs. Currently, the UN ICT TF is being replaced by a new group, called Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), which has a direct focus on ICTs for International Development.