ICT consumption rises, environmentalists worried

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

Despite being a critical element in the economic growth of both developed and developing countries, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have lately become the talk of the town for polluting the planet. And as its consumption continues to rise, worried environmentalists accuse manufacturers of ‘irresponsible’ practices for putting profit first, and ignoring the plight of the planet and future generations.

The Global Information Society Watch said: “There is no question that the production and use of ICTs contribute to the crisis. The energy consumption of ICTs is on the rise and the sector’s contribution to global CO2 emissions – currently 2-3% - is projected to double by 2020 under business as usual scenarios.”

According to Angelica Valeria Ospina and Richard Heeks, both of the Centre for Development Informatics at the University of Manchester, the relation between ICTs and climate change constitutes a relatively new era of enquiry.

Many environmentalists are at loggerheads with the ICT sector over the issue of e-waste, which they believe is being poorly-managed and unfairly force-fed to both the earth and developing countries.

However, there are those who believe that the environmentalists’ stand on ICT versus climate change/e-waste is being blown out of proportion, and could in the process hurt the developing countries’ chance to position themselves in the race to bridging the digital divide.

“Developing countries, most especially Africa, have been lagging behind in ICTs for a long time, and have been seeking even cheaper ways to make up for their delay,” Cheikou Abdou Diallo, an IT teacher at a private computer school in Dakar, told Biztechafrica.

“When I say cheaper ways, I mean every electronic gadget that can help an African child or adult to learn the basics of ICT is welcome, as long as the person who teaches those basics knows what he/she’s doing.”

Diallo said while he did not condone those who dump e-waste in poor countries and those who dispose of it by incineration, he however urges environmentalists to look at the e-waste issue in a positive perspective,  taking account of the African reality – poverty and destitution.

“I know people who picked up computer parts in a dumping site, took those parts to be fixed and put together for good use. That computer helped them, their children and neighbours’ children to learn IT basics. Oh yes, that’s the truth, an African reality, which you the media should often write about.

“Africa is not Europe or US, the realities are different. Africa is poor. Many people want to own things, but they can’t have them because they are poor.

“And many parents want their kids to have a computer at home, but they are unable to offer them one. Environment and health threats mean nothing to an African father or brother who goes to a dumping site to check for computer parts or a TV or radio.”

For some experts, however, the best interests of the environment come first and cannot be traded against anything of value.

Hopeton S Dunn, of the University of the West Indies, quoted by the Global Information Society Watch (Focus on ICTs and Environmental Sustainability), said: “Even as developing countries seek investors and affordable ICT access for low-income populations, they cannot afford to do so at any cost to the environment.

“Significant reforms in showcasing sound public policies and incentivising good corporate citizenship should be devised alongside tough environmental regulations, in order to align the needs of private sectors and social requirements for the more environmentally responsible use of ICTs.”


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