South Asian IT Programmes Need Expansion

ISLAMABAD - South Asian IT programmes need huge imports running into billions of dollars each year, as they embark on expanding this technology to a vast number of sectors.

By M Aftab (Analysis)

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Published: Mon 20 Jul 2009, 11:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 10:28 PM

They have to introduce this technology in sectors as varied as healthcare and education to e-governance and raising productivity, both in the private and public sector to improve standard of life of their people and position themselves to aggressively compete globally.

The magnitude of the technology requirements of the South Asian countries has been explored in the latest research of the Islamabad-based Human Development In Asia -2008 report on “ Technology and Human Development in South Asia”, also known as THDSA. Unveiled this week, the report has been prepared by the Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre. It was established by world-known economist and author of UNDPs’ Human Development Index, Dr Mahbubul Haq, who had also served as Pakistan’s finance minister for several years.

Mrs Khadija Haq, President of Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre, and the principal author of the Report says: “Technology offers unique opportunities to accelerate human development in areas like provision of education and skills, enhancing agricultural productivity, delivering low-cost healthcare in inaccessible areas, improving governance and increasing global competitiveness in trade and commerce. Yet, despite great strides that countries of the region have made in harnessing technology, the vast majority of the people in South Asia still remain by-passed by the promises of a better life. Millions of people in the region are still food insecure, jobless and lack basic education and healthcare.”

The report which covers India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives, notes that “South Asia’s share in high technology trade, as percentage of GDP is low compared to other regions. The share of high technology imports is much higher than that of exports. This is in contrast to East Asia and the Pacific where the share of high technology exports is more than twice the share of related imports. The share of high-tech exports in South Asia is a mere 0.3 per cent of GDP.

India, however, remains a exception to the region as a whole by adopting technology in a dynamic manner, particularly in the areas of software industry.

“A successful diffusion of technology in South Asia is not only contingent upon trade liberalisation and the inflow of FDI, but also upon the foundation of basic education and literacy as well as technical and vocational skills of the population,” the report says.

But does technology improve the lives of the ordinary people, reduce poverty and enhance human capabilities? The report answers these questions and stresses, “technology can be harnessed for greater human development in the context of South Asia.

THDSA notes,“ Globalisation and market liberalisation has changed the landscape of South Asia’s economies.” The deregulation of the telecom industry, in particular, has “brought about an information and communication revolution in South Asia.

India’s performance stands out in the region in terms of not only enabling the use of ICT but also exporting IT-related software and services. “Pakistan is also expanding its exports of these services but at a much modest scale. However, the domestic economy has not much benefited either from e-commerce or e-government,” Dr Ishrat Husain, the former Governor of State Bank of Pakistan, says.

THDSA cautions that “apart from India, there are concerns that the benefits of this technology growth have been limited to the services sector and to the educated and well qualified people.

Sartaj Aziz, former finance minister of Pakistan, called for replicating the experiences, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. He also called for development and expansion of technical manpower and information system, computer-aided literacy, e-governance, and service delivery, upgrading and declaring middle and high schools as technical schools, alternative and renewable sources of energy, and monitoring urban population to benefit from technological advancement for the poor South Asian people.

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