We have learnt to legitimize trade-offs as an essential survival strategy. One of the most perplexing trade-offs, perhaps, is between development and sustainability. As things stand, sustainable development is no longer a stigmatized oxymoron. In fact, it comforts us not in any small measure, when we subscribe to the philosophy that development can be, and needs to be, sustainable.
In a world where even thinking is digitalized, what drives today’s sustainable development need not disorient us: who in the 1980s would have imagined that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) could develop itself into a convenient tool for sustainable development?
Sustainable development is hotly pursued by governments and communities as a model of living that preserves the planet’s resources for future generations. The focus is on practical applications of sustainable development projects, and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly identify global sustainable development targets up to the year 2030.
As noted by International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Deputy Secretary General Malcolm Johnson, “We face many challenges in our quest to ensure that development is sustainable, but one thing is evident, and that is that information and communication technologies will play a vital role in shaping a more sustainable future. However, more concerted effort is needed to mainstream ICTs in the agenda for sustainable development.”
Support and investment in ICT directly affects an individual country’s performance, against the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), indicates a study commissioned by Huawei.
Recognising the need for global regulatory frameworks and standards that can help countries effectively implement SDGs by realizing the transformative capabilities of digital technologies, ITU is working on leveraging ICTs for sustainable development.
As the UN’s specialized agency for ICTs, ITU works to facilitate the development and deployment of innovative technological solutions to improve the quality of life of the global community, propel socio-economic growth and conserve and protect the environment.
ITU’s member countries and leading players in ICTs work collaboratively to advocate opportunities for a sustainable world that ICTs can deliver, through reaching agreement on international technical standards, harmonized spectrum and policies.
In 2015, world leaders adopted in a historic UN summit the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and marking 169 targets measured by 244 indicators. The Sultanate is actively implementing the 2030 SDG agenda, using diverse strategies including ICT.
Oman has developed a visionary ICT strategy and has over the last decade, greatly enriching its technological capabilities and infrastructure. In fact, ICT plays a key role in the Sultanate’s economic diversification agenda. There has been a significant growth in internet use among the public, and also in the number of firms offering ICT solutions. The country has one of the world’s best e-government programmes.
According to Salim Sultan Ruzaiqi, the CEO of Oman’s Information Technology Authority (ITA), ICT penetration is growing horizontally across sectors, and the focus now needs to be on enabling the sector to grow vertically. Also, the Sultanate has managed to maintain positive values in indicators monitoring WSIS goals through consistent efforts to enhance its ICT sector.
ITA is responsible for implementing national IT infrastructure projects and supervising the implementation of the Digital Oman Strategy and works to harness the full potential of ICT. The body has implemented various projects aimed at increasing technology penetration and empowering people with digital literacy and competence through training and innovation centres.
The Sultanate’s ICT projects have won global recognition. For instance, Oman has been winning prestigious awards at the annual World Summits on Information Society (WSIS) for the last few years. WSIS is the world’s largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community. The annual WSIS Forum is a global multi-stakeholder platform facilitating the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for advancing sustainable development, and is co-organised by ITU, Unesco, UNDP and UNCTAD.
Oman won the WSIS 2018 award for its education portal in the ‘easy access to information’ category, while in 2014, the Oman National Computer Emergency Readiness Team (OCERT) won the WSIS award in the ‘building confidence and security in the use of ICTs’ category. The Sultanate also bagged the WSIS prize for its E-employment System, in the ICT applications category in 2015, marking yet another international milestone towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals. It has won other awards as well.
With studies suggesting that countries that perform well on ICT perform equally well on SDGs, and certain SDGs — such as infrastructure, industrialization, innovation, education and health —have higher ICT correlation, Oman’s capacity building in its ICT sector deserves three cheers.
The challenge for Oman, and others as well, is to ensure that the multiple benefits of ICT are equitably distributed among the population, and inclusive sustainable development is achieved.
T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR