By Kevin Howell
Developing nations and remote communities face unique challenges when it comes to sustainability and growth, even as globalization has led to many advancements throughout the world. The United Nations recognized the progress made in developing countries since the turn of the century at its Summit on Post-2015 Development last year, but emphasized the need for improvement.
Technology has played a key role in helping move developing countries toward sustainable growth, with innovative solutions that promote the welfare of people in those areas. Whether it’s using solar energy to power villages and generate free Wi-Fi, setting up mobile phone systems to track births and provide healthcare information, or expanding education to underserved children through digital means, technology has been a critical resource for sustainability.
Sure, there’s still plenty of work to do. But here are five ways technology is changing developing nations.
As cell phones become more prevalent in developing communities, they give underserved people access to technology and vital information about their health. A major factor in health issues in these nations is simply a lack of knowledge and awareness. Mobile health technologies give people unprecedented access to resources on life-threatening diseases such as HIV, AIDS, and malaria.
Health text messaging also has been extremely valuable in developing nations, as it provides the public with alerts about health emergencies as well as reminders to take medication. Portable sensors that monitor health conditions have revolutionized care for people who don’t have easy access to hospitals.
Though many people in developed countries take for granted simple things such as clean water, more than 1.8 billion people lack a dependable source of drinking water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Even more—2.4 billion—have inadequate sanitation facilities.
Engineers have played a key role in reducing those numbers through various projects, such as building piped connections or other sanitary sources such as public taps, protected wells, and boreholes. The WHO reports that 91 percent of the world had an improved source of drinking water in 2015 due to these efforts.
Access to financial services can be a path out of poverty, and technology has made great strides in creating economic sustainability. According to the World Bank, the number of “unbanked” adults dropped by 20 percent from 2011 to 2014, and developing countries had a 13 percentage point increase in account ownership, mainly due to mobile money services.
Many tech companies have started initiatives to provide affordable technology to children in developing areas to help bridge the digital divide. These tools have helped improve the quality and access to education. An article in The Guardian noted that places such as Vietnam have seen a spike children using the internet and text messaging for educational purposes.
In many developing countries, particularly those in Africa, electricity is a luxury that many can’t afford. Projects such as IEEE Smart Village have brought affordable electricity to thousands in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Haiti by harnessing solar energy to power communities.
While technological advancements provide plenty of luxuries and make life easier in developed countries, these same tools are life-saving in developing nations. Engineers have been at the forefront of humanitarian efforts that promote sustainability and growth. As challenges persist, there will be a continuing need for innovative solutions to problems and new technology to transform the lives of the less fortunate.
Are you a problem solver? Are you an engineering student with a passion to serve developing communities with your skills and knowledge? Submit a proposal to EPICS in IEEE to help change the world.