Bridging digital divide crucial in addressing poverty

Digitalisation profoundly impacts development, driving competitiveness and reducing unemployment, thereby combating poverty.

However, over half the global population lacks internet access, with more people owning mobile devices than having clean water or electricity. This digital divide exacerbates global inequality and hampers development efforts.

Access to digital technology is crucial for sharing information during emergencies and improving access to essential services for low-income populations. Economic growth hinges on innovation and technology, with research and development playing pivotal roles in poverty eradication.

While technology has contributed to poverty reduction, institutional changes and societal forces also play significant roles. Moreover, poverty reduction enhances human capacity for technology usage, fostering innovation and acceptance.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are vital tools for social and economic development, bridging gaps between rural and urban areas. Governments in developing nations leverage ICTs to improve rural living conditions and promote socioeconomic equality. By facilitating communication and access to markets, ICTs empower impoverished communities and revitalise traditional professions.

Malaysia ranks 43rd globally and 8th in the Asia Pacific region for internet readiness. Urban areas exhibit higher internet usage rates, with 98.1 per cent of urban households and 89.1 per cent of rural households having internet access. Disparities persist in fixed-line broadband services, with 53.3 per cent of urban households and 23.7 per cent of rural households having access.

Technology plays a pivotal role in addressing poverty and advancing sustainable development goals in Asia Pacific. It has significantly improved living standards, providing better nutrition, health, and quality of life, especially for underprivileged communities. Additionally, technology enhances access to education and employment opportunities, empowers the underbanked, and fosters economic stability through digital financial services.

Smart city technologies and digital infrastructure improve efficiency and connectivity, enhancing overall quality of life. Furthermore, technology aids disaster preparedness and response, mitigating the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable communities.

To maximise the benefits of technology, governments should prioritise creating a conducive business environment and promoting private sector-led growth.

Investment in ICT proficiency in rural areas is crucial. Equally vital are ongoing assessments and improvement of broadband and mobile network services. Integrated ICT interventions are key to sustainable rural development and poverty reduction.

Dr Rulia Akhtar is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya.