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Technology the key to banishing poverty

发布时间:2019-03-06 08:02:01来源:未知点击:

By Andy Coghlan In a world where two billion people live in homes that do not have light bulbs, technology holds the key to banishing poverty, says the United Nations in a major report published on Tuesday. But rich nations and multinational corporations need to do a lot more to put technology into the hands of the world’s poorest people. Even the simplest technologies can transform lives and save money. Vaccines, crops, computers and sources of solar energy can all reduce poverty in developing countries. For example, cheap oral-rehydration therapy developed in Bangladesh has dramatically cut the death toll from childhood diarrhoea. But there has been a “market failure to meet the needs of the poor”, says lead author Sakiko Fukuda-Parr. “There’s no global framework for supporting research and development that addresses the common needs of poor people,” she says. Multinationals must become part of the solution, because they own around 60 per cent of the world’s technology. But they seldom make products for poor customers. For example, of 1223 new drugs marketed worldwide from 1975 to 1996, just 13 were for tropical diseases. “It’s the big corporations that own the technology that really should read this report,” says Fukuda-Parr. “We’re asking them to be more socially responsible.” They could do more to provide vital products such as medicines at different prices around the world to suit what people can afford. Or pledge a percentage of their profit towards research and development for the poor. Governments from rich countries should pay more too, says the report. They and other sources such as the World Bank and international institutes could provide as much as $10 billion. Developing countries should also make better use of intellectual property laws that entitle them to vital medicines, just as South Africa did recently with AIDS drugs. But critics of the report say it does not take poor people’s views into account. “You have to ask: is it affordable to people who earn less than a dollar a day? Is it accessible to them? Can it be managed by local people?” says Lucja Wisniewska of the British-based charity Intermediate Technology Development Group. Controversially, the report backs genetically modified crops despite the widespread opposition to them among Western environmentalists and non-governmental organisations. “To reject it entirely is forgoing a huge opportunity,” says Fukuda-Parr. “If it’s so good for multinationals, why shouldn’t it be used by poor farmers,” she says. Computers could also revolutionise the lives of poor people, allowing them to tap into a global wealth of free information that could help solve local problems. But they’d need to be cheap and wireless. Fukuda-Parr says that Brazil and India have already developed cheap computers, proving that countries can do it for themselves. But the objectives will be difficult to achieve. Time has stood still in sub-Saharan Africa,