Editor’s noted: The following is a blog written by Anabela Abreu, World Bank country director for Haiti, Latin America and Caribbean, comparing internet penetration in Haiti with the rest of Latin America. While the French-speaking republic lags behind its counterparts, the World Bank director highlighted steps taken by the bank to increase internet connectivity and access to the citizens.
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. Some studies show that for every 10 per cent increase in broadband, developing countries could see 0.5 to 1.5 per cent increase in GDP.
In Haiti, digital development has the potential to help bridge the inequalities across the country. With better internet connectivity, schoolchildren 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 per cent of the population uses broadband internet, constrains the country’s growth and competitiveness, lagging far behind the regional average of 78 per cent. Connectivity is also extremely unequal between rural and urban areas and between genders, as only about seven per cent 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 four per cent 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 realised the potential of digital technology and prioritised 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. Together, we can look forward to a future in which digital technology in Haiti can drive growth, create jobs, improve government services and transparency, and strengthen resilience.
Anabela Abreu, a Portuguese national, was designated as the World Bank Country Director for Haiti in September 2017. Prior to this, Ms. Abreu was Country Manager for Panama and held various positions including: Country Manager for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Europe and Central Asia Region; Country Manager for Guatemala in Central America; Sector Manager for Health in South Asia; as well as Senior Public Health Specialist in the Latin America and the Caribbean. She first joined the Bank in 1996 as a consultant in human and social development.