ICTs in new social protection approaches

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There is, already, a serious situation of food shortage and not only, within the majority of families of precarious income, those who have a daily income in the informal sector: the zungueiras, roboteiros, street vendors etc., resulting from the measures Covid's prevention efforts. Almost all social actors, especially those linked to the third sector, converge that the situation of need is the same as that of the 90s when the country was at the height of the war. With an abysmal difference: at that time the international community took over humanitarian supplies in what was one of the largest operations of its kind to date. At this moment, the humanitarian emergency that is being designed only counts on the executive for its mitigation.

Celso Malavoloneke

The 2020 Poverty Report for Angola says that 4 out of 10 Angolans, almost half of the population, have a level of consumption below the poverty line 12,2 kwanzas (21 USD) per month. 6 out of 10 people in rural areas are poor, while in urban areas they are 3 out of 10. And international forecasts are bleak: the World Food Program says that 2021 will be the year of the most famine that is remembered because of two factors combined: food prices will rise because there has been a big drop in world production and the resources of countries to buy them are smaller because economies have entered a serious recession due to Covid's preventive measures 19.

This means that this year the ministerial departments responsible for social assistance and protection have to design humanitarian assistance programs for the most vulnerable classes in the countries, and Angola is no exception. Such an operation should have been set up at least six months ago. Just as the country is using the few resources for direct service to Covid, it has to massively distribute food to people. Otherwise, we run the risk of starving death scenarios. That if it is not already happening.

Such an operation, however, will still have to maintain imperative distance rules for people not to become contaminated. As in other countries, the new technical modalities of humanitarian assistance will have to be done remotely to avoid agglomerations. And this is where ICTs play an extremely important role. In this way, people can access this aid as it already does in other countries, South Africa, for example.

It is true that the digital divide is an effect of poverty; it can also perpetuate and sustain poverty across the country. The digital divide on a practical level means that not all people, the poor mainly do not have the ability to access digital connectivity and services on an equal basis. In Angola, this level of disparity and inequality is especially challenging. The wealthier have more opportunities, resources and access to digital services than those with limited means. Lack of access to technology can extend poverty by restricting opportunities for social mobility. An internet connection with a smartphone or other smart device (computer, smart TV, laptop or tablet) is an inaccessible luxury for many millions of people in Angola. At the end of the third quarter of 2020, Angola had a penetration in the smartphone market of only 24,3%. Telephones with lower cost features still achieved market penetration of 16,9%, leaving substantial room for growth and maturation in the market. That is why digital inclusion should be part of humanitarian assistance or other social protection programs, because in this context of a pandemic, it allows people to receive information, services and even financial aid without having to leave home, as already happens with the “Kwenda” project. 

Also in the effort that can already be seen in the fight against hunger that threatens half the population of the country, investment in the infrastructures of information and communication technologies becomes of immediate importance. With a quality broadband connection and a smartphone, people can access important information about the pandemic, job availability, food support, jobs, education and more. Following the current standards of assistance and social protection, they can receive, instead of the famous basic baskets, an amount of money with which he himself goes to the store to buy the food and other goods he needs. O Kwenda Project it is doing this successfully through a partnership with one of the mobile phone networks and it is giving excellent results, even in locations where there are no banks.

The same is happening to access to quality education and skills. Since the first tele and radio classes in March of this year, the use of ICTs to teach classes at a distance. This will help to narrow the educational gap between urban and rural populations as barriers to accessing quality educational content and tools are removed. It has already been possible using Internet delivery methods, the live transmission of classes and demos, online assignments and testing. Over time, one can guess the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality learning applications.

This leads to a reduction in asymmetries in access to essential services. Equitable access to digital services is a precursor to a more connected, engaged and interacting society. It also leads to the inclusion of excluded groups. Eliminates or substantially reduces barriers experienced by historically excluded groups, including women, children and people with disabilities. We already know that the approaches used in Angola in rural areas are not the same as those suitable for urban populations. Education levels and, of course, digital skills will be different. Likewise, the accessibility issues of each group must be considered. There may be additional services required by these groups that will require more niche and content services to ensure their inclusion and participation.

The recent pandemic and the social detachment that accompanies it and the policies of remote work that can characterize the lives of people in different countries globally show us the importance of ubiquitous broadband coverage, as well as high rates of adoption and participation. As such, Angola cannot afford to follow old plans and the pace of delivering connectivity goals. The country must move beyond a “business as usual”And pursue the goal of connecting the last person in Angola to high-quality broadband. This means addressing various constraints and barriers that block the way for a fully connected Angolan society from the mass deployment of critical broadband infrastructures in rural and remote areas to bridging the digital skills gaps in society and, in particular, in the strength of work and in creating and valuable content for the consumption of the average Angolan created, preferably by Angolans. An inclusive digital economy and a fully participative society are on the other side of this invisible barrier of exclusion and digital divide. Achieving this goal is a major undertaking that requires the public and private sectors, as well as development finance agencies and NGOs around the world, dedicated to eradicating digital inequality in Angola, to come together and pursue this common goal. And that has to start with the attack (without quotes) on hunger that covers a growing percentage of our population like a black veil. This challenge is not for today; it's for yesterday!…

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