The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis have highlighted the importance of internet connectivity and digital skills. The pandemic has exposed the lack of preparedness around the world to conduct business virtually, and has widened the divide between those with and without a broadband connection.
Connecting people to broadband offers more than just the chance to browse the internet and use social media– it can make a difference when it comes to disaster response, education, health, social safety nets, survival of enterprises and businesses, and overall economic development.
In Haiti, digital development has potential to help bridge the inequalities across the country. With better internet connectivity, school children in Nippes could have the same access to learning as those in Port au Prince. Fishermen in Port Salut could seek weather data before heading offshore, and farmers in the South could receive agriculture extension services, track crop cycles, and compare market prices. Entrepreneurs in the country could start a small business, advertise through social media, and find new markets. People across Haiti could receive earlier warnings about disasters and stay connected with loved ones.
However, the current lack of digital connectivity in Haiti, where only 35% of the population uses broadband internet, constrains the country’s growth and competitiveness, lagging far behind the regional average of 78%. Connectivity is also extremely unequal between rural and urban areas and between genders, as only about 7% of women and girls have internet access, the lowest in the region. Download speeds are significantly lower than in other Latin America and Caribbean countries. Moreover, internet in Haiti is not affordable. A 1GB mobile subscription could cost as much as 4% of per capita income, significantly higher for the average customer than in other countries in the region such as the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
The Government of Haiti realized the potential of digital technology and prioritized investments in this sector. I am very pleased that the World Bank is partnering with the Government in increasing access to broadband services and establishing the foundations of digital resilience to shocks, through the Haiti Digital Acceleration Project, approved in October. The project aims to connect 2.7 million more people to the internet in Haiti, and make digital infrastructure resilient, to avoid outages during disasters.
The Haiti Digital Acceleration Project will also connect nearly 1,300 public sector institutions. This aims to improve the way the government operates and interacts with citizens, opening the door to increased accountability, transparency, and more efficient service delivery. Reliable internet and IT equipment would facilitate data exchanges between government agencies, allow for publication of budgetary information, and improve mechanisms for citizen feedback. The ability to collect and analyze data can improve the design of government policies.
Similarly, increased accessibility and reliability of digital services would make it easier for Haitians abroad to send money home, or for people in Port au Prince to send funds to relatives in rural areas of the country. Enhanced connectivity would also contribute to strengthening the private sector, attracting more investment and providing room for growth of digital firms and for Haitian entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Investing in digital connectivity and services therefore offers abundant opportunities, and we are excited to be part of this initiative.