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Human Development Report spotlights technology's role in reducing poverty

Human Development Report spotlights technology's role in reducing poverty

A new expert report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) argues that information and communications technology, as well as advances in the field of biotechnology, can potentially make major contributions to reducing poverty.

The annual Human Development Report, this year subtitled Making New Technologies Work for Human Development, points out that breakthrough medical technologies have already raised life expectancies quickly and dramatically, even in poor countries lacking adequate health infrastructure. For example, a new oral rehydration therapy and improved vaccines reduced the number of deaths from major childhood illnesses by about 3 million between 1980 and 1990. The development of vaccines for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis could also save millions of lives in the developing world.

The report, which was formally launched today in Mexico City, also highlights the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in overcoming barriers of social, economic and geographical isolation while increasing access to information and education. The report points to low-cost computers and low literacy touch-screens as examples of technologies now under development that have great potential for empowering the poor.

Despite these positive predictions, the report concludes that many of the most important technology opportunities for poor people have so far been missed because of lack of market demand and inadequate public financing. It recommends public sector funding incentives for research and development, while noting that governments in both developed and developing countries have so far failed to provide the necessary support for these initiatives.

Speaking at the report's launch, Mexican President Vincente Fox said the document "invites us all to strive to place science and technology at the service of the challenges posed by poverty and lack of opportunities."

For his part, UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said the report showed that "the challenge for the twenty-first century is not whether to focus on technological advancement in addition to other development goals, but how to take advantage of new technologies and use them strategically as a tool for development."

Echoing this point at a press conference in New York, Eimi Watanabe, the Director of UNDP's Bureau for Development Policy, said the report revealed that in order to narrow the gap between rich and poor, it was necessary to provide all with access to ICT and the latest biotechnologies, while at the same time securing basic education and clean drinking water. "So it's not a question of 'either or,'" she stressed.