The Need for Addressing the Internet Woes of Balochistan

The world has rapidly advanced towards digital mediums making life easier in all spheres whether that’s shopping, education, health, etc. This adoption of new technologies has opened multiple gateways to opportunities, thus increasing the pace of development.

Today, Pakistan has a population of about 87 million people that are connected via the internet. Despite, the growing need and urgency to spread internet facilities across the country, many areas of Pakistan, such as Balochistan, are still lagging behind significantly in terms of technological advancement.

In order to improve the socio-economic conditions in these parts of the country, it is essential to build a strong connectivity infrastructure. Balochistan is endowed with rich reserves of natural resources; it is the largest province of the country and has a diverse cultural history.

Despite being blessed in so many ways, Balochistan remains the most under-developed region of Pakistan. Burgeoning levels of poverty, inadequate distribution of resources, and absence of basic facilities are reflective of its poor state.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) poverty report, there are stark regional disparities within Pakistan with Balochistan being the poorest province of the country. More than 50% of the people are identified as living in poor conditions. In Qilla Abdullah, 96% are living below the poverty level, making it the poorest part of Pakistan.

The poor in Balochistan have to recover from many problems. The absence of basic facilities and lack of infrastructure has deepened the woes of the province. Although the government has launched initiatives for the promotion of livelihood opportunities, a lot more still needs to be done.

However, the challenges of the regions are immense. Areas are so widely spread that schools and hospitals cannot be built in every district. Access to some of these districts is very difficult and due to the scarcity of people and resources, the development of infrastructure is not economically viable.

A good alternative could be building a strong network in the area which allows people to enjoy digital services. There will be no need to go to a hospital if people have access to doctors online. Similarly, if one intends to buy some goods, those could be ordered online. Access to internet and broadband services can solve many problems of the people of Balochistan.

The condition of schools and colleges in Balochistan is also dismal. Children do not have an understanding of modern-day ICT skills. With the improvement in internet services, more children could transition towards online education and acquire valuable skills that could prove to be pivotal for their future.

Ufone and Universal Services Fund have collaborated to promote the development of telecom services in the unserved and under-served areas of Balochistan. More than 2.3 million un-served people in the 12 districts of Balochistan – which include Sibi, Kalat, Khuzdar, Chagai, Awaran, Lasbela, Kharan, Dera Bugti, Bolan, Gawadar, and Ziarat – can benefit from these projects.

The inauguration of the Rs 759 million “Seamless Broadband Coverage Project” from Hub to Jiwani could be a game-changer in this regard. It is worth mentioning that this is the first of its kind project where a local mobile operator will provide national roaming service to other operators in Pakistan.

These projects shall allow the provision of voice and broadband services to all these areas, fueling a positive change for Balochistan. The project will directly impact the Gwadar-CPEC project as well, and by the development of communication networks, ease of doing work will be ensured for stakeholders.

Another benefit could be the move to a cashless economy through mobile financial services. Access to the internet will allow people to open Mobile Wallet accounts like UPaisa, and conduct transactions from the comfort of their homes. This move could support small businesses in the area as they will be able to operate in a free and fair manner.

This would also further the cause of the Prime Minister’s digitization initiative and equip people with a better understanding of digital processes. This sensitivity needs to be developed amongst other stakeholders too so that they work on improving the situation of Balochistan. For the past many years, Balochistan has been reeling under the devastating effects of growing poverty.

Poorly planned development, mismanagement of resources, and lack of a strong connectivity network have increased vulnerabilities. It is time we address these problems and devise a sustainable solution. In terms of network coverage, these projects will bring much-needed connectivity to the region.

However, the government needs to develop a detailed plan to encourage and incentivize businesses to extend their digital presence to these far-flung areas of the country.