March 2005

Bytes for All

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The Tsunami still looms large in the minds of all. In the aftermath of December 26 2004, our thoughts are still heavily doused with disaster mitigation, early warning systems and whether the human tragedy could be averted. Following is a summary of discussions held in the Bytes for All readers forum in the months of January and February 2005.

Are rural communities getting their due?
Gary Knight, a well-traveled journalist, based in Australia, has started a group called 'Global-Rural-Network' (Globalruralnetwork @yahoogroups.com). An introductory article posted by Gary about the group touched upon the following issues:

  • Rural communities all over the world are the 'food bowl' of their countries, yet they lag behind their city counterparts in business networking, education, health services, communications, political representation, access to clean water, transport, media distribution, new technologies and information.
  • Rural producers are usually at the mercy of city-based brokers and get poorly paid for their produce.
  • There is a constant 'brain-drain' of skilled rural workers migrating to the cities.

Through this article Gary urges readers to use Global-Rural-Network to:

  • Disseminate information
  • Discuss the needs of your community and region
  • Promote your product, technology or business
  • Align yourself with people in similar industries throughout the world
  • Put forward your ideas that can assist people in other regions and countries to grow
  • Learn how to be effective in lobbying for change that is needed.
  • Learn how to attract infrastructure, investors, population, new industry or whatever your town requires for survival
  • Deal directly with people to do business
  • Learn about new regimes in cropping, water management and waste management
  • Learn about other rural communities

This article evoked interesting reactions from the rest of the readers. Peter Burgess said, “The rural world really does not need more journalism, what it needs is a committed community of people who are organised to help and information management to show the effectiveness of resources used and progress achieved. Don Cameron added to that saying, “The rural world does not need foreign consultants trying to impose solutions upon them”.

Bytes For All and WSIS
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Regional (South Asian) Consultation Meeting took place in Dhaka, Bangaladesh from 5-7 January 2005. Bytes for All being closely associated with WSIS, asked for inputs from its readers on the following topics: Financing ICT4D issues (Scope for Regional Cooperation), ICT Policy Interventions in the South Asia region and Internet Governance: Regional Perspectives. Bytes for All received the following inputs from its readers:

Financing ICT4D issues

  • Social co-operative movements could be important partners in rural development
  • WSIS should issue guidelines (for public funded projects) that examine the desirability and cost of deploying knowledge and technology in the public domain
  • Technical infrastructure should be in place for ICT
  • Capacity at the local level should be created for sustaining and maintaining this infrastructure
  • WSIS should look for sustainable models for ICT4D financing.
  • Donor-funded projects should only concentrate on areas where market mechanisms have no influence and where there is little opportunity to build on a sense of entrepreneurship

ICT policy interventions

  • South Asia needs a clear policy on communication
  • A sound IT policy as well as a policy for ICT in general is required, for better ICT implementations
  • Local communities should be enabled to use information to their advantage
  • People should be empowered to act on the information quickly, especially during an emergency
  • ICT policies should encourage resource-sharing projects.
  • Better connectivity, local language computing, promotion and standards should be prioritised
  • Ensure transparency and accountability

Internet governance: Regional perspectives

  • Issues like 'identity theft' and 'online pornography' need to be addressed
    •  

    Tsunami
    A. Does relief aid really get where it is intended?
    After the Tsunami hit South Asia in December 2004 end, the world responded with magnanimity and aid poured in the affected areas like never before in the history of mankind. But as always happens there are always vultures who want a share of the spoils during a tragedy. An article posted by Bala Pillai on 'Whether aid gets to the poor or ends up in Swiss accounts' was thought provoking. The irony is that the biggest danger for tragedy-hit people is to be run over by a big 'white jeep' symbolising the local administration in charge of relief operations. It seems Indonesia's national debt is 80% of its national income, even though billions of dollars worth of aid pours in every year. One reason such countries cannot repay their debts is because they have failed to spend the money for what it was intended. If donors want to rebuild houses, roads and airports, they must try to channel more aid through charities and less through governments. As long as the proposed beneficiaries do not have a voice, they will continue to be exploited by vested interests.

    B. Open source disaster management system
    Sri Lankan programmers have developed an open source disaster management system to help relief work in their Tsunami hit areas. The software has many features like, maintaining a database of people missing, dead, orphans, etc. The database also stores fingerprints and DNA samples. Among others, it has a request management system that coordinates the efforts of organisations to respond to requests from relief camps. For more details read http://theage.com.au/articles/2005/01/271106415704413. html?oneclick=true

    C. Learn from our stone-age brethren
    Tribes living in remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands survived the deadly Tsunami waves, because they climbed to trees and higher grounds well in time. In this age of information technology, it is unbelievable but true. Resorts built on the coastlines of the Tsunami hit areas had all the technology at their disposal. But could neither protect their high profile clientele nor their structures, which were razed to the ground in minutes after the killer waves struck. The stone age tribes of Andaman and Nicobar however live close to nature and are known to heed biological warning signs like changes in the cries of birds and the behavior patterns of land and marine animals. If only their city cousins were to respect nature and stay well clear of the coastline, the human tragedy could be much lesser. For more read http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/GA07Df05.html

    Has India lost its spirit of invention?
    Balla Pillai threw the following question to the readers group: “Why India has not produced a single quantum invention in 1000 years?” A quantum invention can be defined as a significant leap in the order of problem solving from cave-man days till now: e.g. taming of fire, domestication of rice, invention of writing, discovery of zero, wheel, gunpowder, paper, seafaring vessels, printing press, electricity, cars, computers, credit cards, Internet etc. The above question evoked the following insights:

    As of today in India and most of Asia for that matter, the focus is on the services sector. The services sector is determined by the cost factor. This sector cannot afford to waste time on experimenting, making mistakes and failing. The approach is 'let someone else do the experimenting, we will use the tried and tested methods'. Also in the past few years, India and the rest of Asia has been experiencing heavy brain drain. If at all there have been sparks of innovation, they have all migrated to greener pastures in developed countries.

    For ideas to proliferate, the dependencies are primarily on government with a vision and a favourable environment where the idea can thrive when deployed on a very large scale. India remained out of the creativity map for 1000 years because after 1200 A.D. fortunes of India waned politically, socially and economically. Because of continuous onslaught from invaders, the local population was on survival mode. 'Sparks' were always there. But for the sparks to be ignited a conducive socio-cultural landscape is required, which was not present. An inventor cannot survive in isolation. A repressive regime can kill creativity. One reader argued as to why M.K. Gandhi's peaceful means of warfare (Satyagraha) should not be considered a quantum invention.

    Speech riding the airwaves
    Speech is natural, efficient, flexible and faster than any other media of human communication. Speech can be especially effective when working with the disabled like the blind. Radio waves can travel anywhere on the earth and this technology has been there for a long time now, even before Internet. A low powered radio is a technology that even the poor can use. Securing these thoughts, Dr. Arun Mehta, an IIT alumni and now a scientist in India, demonstrated a tiny radio transmitter at the Bangalore, India Asia Source camp in Jan-Feb 2005. For more on the story read http://www.tacticaltech.org/node/225

    Innovative use of technology
    There is more to technology than merely browsing the Internet and downloading the latest ring tones on your mobile handset. Some of the innovative uses of technology mentioned are a robotic mine-cleaning vehicle remotely operated by humans, an irrigation system called Easy-Drip, a small computer called Taking Tactile Tablet to help visually impaired students to perceive graphical images and hold your breath, an improved rat-catching device for farmers. Take a look at the following link: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bytesforall_readers/message/4704?threaded=1

    News flashes

    • Bangladesh cabinet approves Draft of Information and Communication Technology Act-2005 in Dhaka, February 14
    • Indian rail goes mobile: Get updates on your train, PNR status, 2005 etc on your mobile. For more read http://www. indianrail.gov.in/sms.html
    • People's Summit for People's SAARC took place in Dhaka in February 2005 <

    Bytes for All: www.bytesforall.org or www.bytesforall.net
    Bytes for All Readers Discussion:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bytesforall_readers
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    Compiled by Archana P. Nagvekar, Bytes for All, India

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