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ICTs for development in the Pacific

The development of ICTs in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) is a key factor associated with sustainable and economic development in the region

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To help address social and economic areas for development in the Pacific, such as agriculture, human health and extreme climate, innovative ICT tools are being created and implemented in the region.

The development of ICTs in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) is a key factor associated with sustainable and economic development in the region. Communication and information dissemination on PICs is hampered by various factors, including the scattered nature of the populations, small markets, a lack of infrastructure and human resources, and high costs of connectivity.

ICT development can be beneficial for various aspects of Pacific agriculture, including improved production and marketing efficiencies, especially in rural areas. Communication between farmers and buyers has broken down in the absence of a proper pathway to connect. The development of ICT tools can help to bridge this gap, providing farmers and buyers a platform through which to communicate on agriculture-related issues such as produce quantities, delivery and costs, etc. The development of ICT tools would also allow for more efficient marketing as it would generate the platforms needed to promote farmer goods and attract buyers.

Another example of ICT benefits on PICs is their association in helping to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are prevalent in the region. WHO has stated that, “NCDs are a leading cause of premature death and disability in the Pacific. Efforts to reduce risk factors for NCDs such as creating supportive environments to make healthy choices, strengthening community action, and increasing accessibility to prevention and management services are essential to preventing NCDs and their complications”. Through the development of ICT tools, such as the MyKana app, which works by tracking dietary intake on a daily basis, more and more Pacific islanders are able to monitor their calorie intake and develop better health regimes.

As well as the spread of NCDs, PICs are being immensely impacted by extreme weather patterns such as tropical cyclones, flooding, droughts, etc. In order to adequately provide surveillance, transmit timely information to raise awareness, observe the impacts and collect data, appropriate forms of technology have to be developed and implemented. Such developments will help to create a more rigorous weather-monitoring system in PICs for use during natural disasters. The development of high intelligence drones with appropriate connectivity tools, for example, would be useful for surveillance and evacuation during floods and tropical cyclones. However, the adoption of appropriate ICT tools for the PICs is restricted by connectivity challenges. Internet connectivity is as an enabling technology; without it, high precision agriculture devices and other advanced technologies cannot be operated to their full capacities.

Innovations in Pacific connectivity

A few innovative developments in the Pacific region which will boost connectivity are:

Fiji

  • The University of the South Pacific (USP)

In 2016, consultations between USP and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs had commenced regarding the upgrade of the USPNet (a NZ$4M project), a USP-owned satellite-based network. The network allows the University to deliver flexible learning and assist in educational opportunities in its 12 member countries in the Pacific region. The upgrading of this technology allows the region to communicate more effectively with scope for restoration of connectivity in the event of a disaster.

  • Digital Fiji

Digital Fiji is a digital transformation programme run by the Fijian Government to improve its ICT infrastructure and the quality and accessibility of government services. Under the project, an online application was developed through which citizens can communicate more directly with their local government to raise queries and gain access to relevant information.

Samoa

  • Tui – Samoa Submarine Cable

The Tui – Samoa Submarine cable is part of Samoa’s National Cybersecurity Strategy 2016-2021, which connects Samoa to Fiji (while also branching to Wallis and Futuna and Vanua Levu in Fiji). It is now connected and serving the Pacific region with fast, reliable and affordable connectivity.

Vanuatu

  • Kava World

Digital platform, Kava World, is an innovative solution of Pacific Digital Transformation Consultants. The technology bridges the digital divide to connect growers, sellers and consumers of Kava on a global scale, and support small-medium sized enterprises.

Whilst innovations such as the above have proved successful, poor connectivity in PICs remains a barrier to the efficient implementation and use of appropriate ICT tools. For ICTs to be utilised to the full potential, their development should occur simultaneously with improved connectivity in the region.

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