Ambassador Dr. Kohona attended the High Level Meeting on ICT  and Sustainable Urbanization in Hong Kong


Statement by Ambassdor Kohona pn 16th  April,  2012 in Hong Kong

          It is a normal, widely observed historical phenomenon, that rural folk migrate to cities for a range of different reasons. These migrations could be temporary or permanent. The attraction in the cities could be, jobs, better prices for their products, education for their children, housing, or simply the bright lights. In many developed countries too, rural youth migrate to cities looking for the bright lights, in a metaphorical sense. As many believe, city streets are paved with gold.  There is a cost attached to these migrations.  Both for these people from rural areas as well as the current city dwellers and the managers of urban areas.

      Bridging the digital divide between rural and urban communities could help to curb the migration pattern in certain countries. Rapidly developing Information and Communication Technologies are now being acknowledged as being crucial to multiple service providers as well as a source of innovative employment creation. We need to be creative in this area, or shall I say, domain.

      Recognising this growing demand for urban amenities in rural areas, the Government of Sri Lanka first started developing the policy framework for moving certain industries into rural areas, making them readily accessible to rural communities. The result has been the facility for rural youth, especially for girls, to find employment in their own neighbourhoods. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans now work in factories and work places located in their own districts. Industrial parks have been set up far from the main cities. We have thus avoided the overcrowding of our cities unlike many other developing countries. We have also avoided many of the vexing social problems associated with overcrowded cities. Similarly, from early 2000 onward, Sri Lanka started a rapid ICT drive encompassing the whole country with a special emphasis on rural and backward communities giving them enormous benefits. The rural telecenter network was a special innovation, in which a collaborative partnership was promoted among the government, corporate and individual entrepreneurs and the civil society organizations.

     Sri Lanka's current e-Gov policy and associated projects have ignited a rapid e-service drive, serving a significant portion of the country’s population. Accordingly, more and more information on public services has become available for citizens electronically (via the internet and through the official government call center services). Now, time consuming and costly visits to urban centers to access government services has become unnecessary. There is further room for development, but significant advances have already been made, given our limited resources.

      The national broadband policy of Sri Lanka too is helping narrowing the digital divide. The planned island-wide national backbone network also supports this policy. The service is open to private enterprise and a fierce competition has begun to provide services, making Sri Lanka a leader in this area. Of course, business is a beneficiary from this. More than 80% of Sri Lankans now have access to cell phones.

      Sri Lanka’s fifth largest component of the GDP is the ICT-based business process outsourcing (BPO) industry , which is now set to surpass traditional industries and services in a couple of years.  This target set by the private sector along with government-sponsored rural ICT infrastructure which will help job-seeking youth to engage in ICT/internet based income generating activities, thus discouraging the traditional inclination to migrate to cities looking for the "source of decent jobs".

It is also noteworthy that Sri Lanka’s first women BPO started on this year’s International Women’s Day in Jaffna. This city suffered severely during the 30-year internal conflict.

The increasing ICT literacy (increased from 5% in 2004 to 30% in 2011) will drive a significant portion of rural youth to ICT based “green” jobs. The government plans to increase the number to 75% by 2016.

     The same result can be expected if Sri Lanka can improve distance education facilities and resources in ICT-based media which would help to reduce rural children going to ad hoc after school tuition facilities in cities. However, substituting teachers standing in front of a class room with such new technologies is a challenge, specially developing educational material in local languages. Providing a solid base for education will help improving social development indicators of developing countries sustainably.

    Today’s challenge is to manage time and space for ever increasing demands in cities despite many resource constraints. In this context, ICT helps managing urbanization sustainably by modern means. Improved digital communication facilities, population databases, online payment systems, security systems and supply-chain management systems can be mentioned as the ICT tools of sustainable urban management.

  Developing new townships with ICT infrastructure, which are flexible for rapidly advancing new technologies are therefore imperative to mitigate many negative results of urbanization. To improve sustainability, energy-efficient ICT and supportive systems should be developed and implemented.

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