SDGs: what ICTs can do?

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SDGs: what ICTs can do?

For a couple of years, Sustainable development goals (SDGs) have been the new buzzword in donor circles. It remains to be seen whether the MDG-offshoot can achieve the lofty mandate – 17 goals and 169 targets spanning nearly all aspects of socioeconomics – by 2030. Now, one is noticing excitement on the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in helping achieve those targets.

In its latest annual report, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has dedicated a whole chapter on the theme of ICTs being the key to achieving SDGs. For each of the 17 SDGs, PTA has suggested policy inputs – that’s something which policymakers at both the center and the provinces need to seriously look at if they want to tackle the development challenges holistically.

The measures suggested by the PTA include using ICT to do things like transfer G2P welfare payments, develop a national agriculture information system, provide online education, mainstream e-health projects, create free-lance and home-based employment opportunities, develop smart cities, create an electronic registry to track natural resources, and enhance international research collaboration.

ICTs are indeed cross-cutting in nature and can help catalyze change. But before we get ahead of ourselves, two things need to be kept in mind.
One, ICTs can only make transformation faster, cheaper and efficient when it comes to behavior change in a developmental context. Technology, in itself, is not the be-all, end-all of development. Unless Pakistan’s governance institutions transform their lethargic underlying attitude towards service delivery to the public, no amount of ICTs can deliver desired change. The public, too, must demand better.

And two, if not handled with care, technology has a way to exacerbate existing inequalities. For instance, all those telephony subscription numbers bandied about may be overstating the real number of “unique” ICT users in Pakistan. It would be nice if The PTA can state as to how many unique users there actually are for 2G, 3G and 4G, as well as their geographic breakup.

One points that out because the same PTA report claims: “Today, more than 87 percent of the population of Pakistan falls under the cellular mobile signal…” But respectfully, that’s not the same as 87 percent of the population actually using basic cellular services. The usage of mobile broadband – 3G and 4G – is even more exclusive and focused mainly on the cities.

In any case, it is good to see that ICTs are being looked at as enablers for development in Pakistan. Good on the telecoms watchdog for sharing some doable ideas with the federal and provincial governments to advance the SDGs in Pakistan. But to really leverage the ICTs, Pakistan still has a long way to go. On the supply side, build a telecom infrastructure that makes services accessible and affordable to all. And on the demand-side, nudge individuals, businesses and public sector towards beneficial absorption of ICTs.

Source: Business Recorder

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