Coronavirus Pandemic Reveals Widening Digital Gap — UN

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The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says the global crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the digital gap between countries and societies.

UNCTAD, in a new analysis mapped the changing digital landscape since the last major global calamity, the 2008/09 financial crisis, looking at how a digitally- enabled world was working for some countries but not all.

According to the analysis, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools, and services, speeding up the global transition towards a digital economy.

However, the analysis exposed the wide chasm between the connected and the unconnected, revealing just how far behind many were on digital uptake.

“Inequalities in digital readiness hamper the ability of large parts of the world to take advantage of technologies that help us cope with the coronavirus pandemic by staying at home,” UNCTAD’s Technology and Logistics Director, Shamika Sirimanne, said.

“This situation has significant development implications that cannot be ignored. We need to ensure that we do not leave those who are less digitally equipped even further behind in a post-coronavirus world, ” he added.

The UNCTAD gave snapshots of how technology was being used as a critical tool in maintaining business and life continuity.

The agency said measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic had seen more businesses and governments move their operations and services online to limit physical interaction to contain the spread of COVID-19.

It noted that digital platforms were also thriving as consumers sought entertainment, shopping opportunities and new ways of connecting during the crisis.

“There are incredible positives emerging that show the potential of a digitally transformed world,” Sirimanne stated.

According to her, digitalisation is allowing telemedicine, telework and online education to proliferate and also generating more data on the expansion of the virus and helping information exchanges for research.

According to Microsoft, the number of people using its software for online collaboration climbed nearly 40 per cent in a week.

Sirimanne noted that lack of Internet access at home also limited connectivity, cramping the possibilities for students to be connected if schools were closed.

“The education gap may also expand in developing countries, compounding inequalities,” Sirimanne added.

According to the UN agency, low broadband quality hampers the ability to use teleconferencing tools while mobile data costs also remain expensive across the developing world.

The agency noted that the least developed countries were the most vulnerable to the human and economic consequences of the pandemic as they also lagged farthest behind in digital readiness.

UNCTAD added that only one in five people in LDCs use the Internet, and in most developing countries, well below five per cent of the population currently buy goods or services online.

“This situation will now be amplified as more people come or are forced online due to the coronavirus crisis,” the UNCTAD’s Digital Economy Head, Torbjörn Fredriksson, said.

Fredriksson added that those that do not have access were at risk of being left further behind as digital transformation accelerates, especially those in the least developed countries.

— Punch

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