Signs of Optimism in Human Development

But U.N. Still Sees a Widening Wealth Gap

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ROME, JULY 10, 2001 ( The gap between the world´s rich and poor is widening, but many developing nations are using technology to keep from falling further behind in the global economy, a new report has found.

The Human Development Report 2001, commissioned by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and released today, argues that information and communications technology can help overcome barriers of social, economic and geographic isolation.

It notes that important technological centers have emerged in places like Campinas and Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bangalore, India; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Gauteng, South Africa; and El Ghazala, Tunisia.

The 264-page study highlights new options for poor people using the Internet for political empowerment, such as with the global e-mail campaign in January that helped topple Philippine President Joseph Estrada, according to a Reuters report. Other examples include distance learning projects in Thailand and Turkey and job growth created by technology exports from Costa Rica, India and South Africa.

But the report also says that most important technology advances bypass the world´s poor because of lack of market demand, inadequate public funding and focus of innovative research efforts on high-income consumers.

The report sees optimism for the control of the spread of epidemics. Between 1980 and 1999, for example, a new oral moisturizing therapy reduced by 3 million the number of deaths of newborns.

Yet, it notes that health expenditures are concentrated on the treatment of sicknesses found in industrialized countries, while less is invested in the curing of epidemics that scourge developing countries.

The list of marginalized countries includes many of those torn by civil strife in recent decades, ranging from Nicaragua, with 39 phone lines per 1,000 people, to Mozambique, with no known Web connections and only five phones per 1,000 people.

Developing countries continue to struggle with the high cost of basic electronic infrastructure. Africa has less international bandwidth than Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city of 10 million people. More fundamentally, electric power generation is not available to 2 billion people, a third of mankind.

Monthly Internet access charges amount to 1.2% of average monthly income for a typical U.S. user, compared with 614% in Madagascar, 278% in Nepal, 191% in Bangladesh and 60% in Sri Lanka.

A chapter of the study focuses on genetically modified organisms (GMO). It stresses that biotechnologies offer possibilities to create new seeds, genetically altered to resist droughts, diseases and insects.

UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown explained that «the GMO are the best way to avoid hundreds of millions of people dying from hunger.» Regarding ecologists´ fears about the organisms, Brown said, «There is not one death in the world whose cause can be traced to GMO.»

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