BC Helps Bring the Information Age to Yemen [Archives:1998/42/Law & Diplomacy]

October 19 1998

Mr. Richard Weyers is the British Council’s Regional Information Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. He is based at the British Council’s headquarters in Manchester, England.
Providing advice to the British Council on developing its informational services, Mr. Weyers is responsible for 16 countries in the region, to which he travels extensively.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor interviewed Mr. Weyers before delivering a lecture, entitled “Our Information Age,” at the British Council, Sanaa.
Q: Could you briefly tell us about the purpose of your visit to Yemen?
A: I came here to talk a little about information and communications technology. Some people call it the information revolution. Whichever way you look at it, the world is changing and many people believe we’re entering an age where information is the primary commodity.
In previous centuries, other elements have been the basic commodities, whether it is in manufacturing or the service sectors. Information is becoming increasingly important to the development of economies, and the manipulation of information is crucial.
Fortunately it is a revolution which I believe does not need to bypass developing countries. Many of the technologies used to provide information these days are equally available in developing countries. In offer words, there is a real possibility of closing what we call the North-South information gap.
Q: What does bridging the gap mean?
A: It is not possible for every citizen to have his or her own computer. There are low-cost ways of making information available through computers to communities. For example, in what we call a tele-center – a community-based computer facility – there maybe only one personal computer (PC). Such a community organization can be a school, hospital, library, mosque. This is a very effective way of providing conductivity to large numbers of people within different communities.
This is just one example. There is also an information revolution taking place in broadcasting – the arrival of digital broadcasting. This I believe will have a great effect on many communities. Eventually, it will have effects which we can’t imagine now.
Q: What is digital broadcasting?
A: We’re fortunate in the UK in that digital broadcasting has just been launched. The main difference, as for as I understand, is that digital broadcasting will provide much greater choice in the range of broadcast available. It also provides inter-activity so audiences will have some control over the information that is broadcast.
Q: Is it possible that Third World countries will soon be able to fully enter the information age?
A: I would also like to mention in this connection the publication this week of the World Bank’s human development report. This year the report has been entitled ” Knowledge for Development.” It makes the very important point that knowledge is crucial to development. If you accept that argument, and there is a lot of evidence which relates knowledge to development, then I believe that it is very important to develop information access points for citizens.
The report, which is available on the Internet and will be available in Arabic in due course, relates to things like the level of education of mothers to child mortality. There is a direct correlation between the levels of education of mothers and the rate of child mortality. The report cites Yemen as an example. It shows especially that mothers with no education seem to suffer from around 150 deaths of children per 1,000 births. While those with secondary or higher education have much less that 75 deaths per 1,000. So it is quite a scientific way of demonstrating that the provision of knowledge can lead to concrete development and improvement of living conditions in developing countries.