“This pandemic is probably not ‘the Big One,”’ the prospect of which haunts the nightmares of epidemiologists and public health officials everywhere,” writes Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist, in this month’s Foreign Affairs. “The next pandemic will most likely be a novel influenza virus with the same devastating impact as the pandemic of 1918, which circled the globe two and a half times over the course of more than a year, in recurring waves, killing many more people than the brutal and bloody war that preceded it.”

For countries to be better prepared for future crises, ICT development and infrastructure has to be ramped up, believes Catherine Chen, Huawei Corporate Senior Vice President and Director of the Board. Today’s devastation from Covid-19 has been “a stern reminder that we are still not doing enough,”

Speaking at Huawei’s recent Better World Summit, Chen shared how ICT can help countries rebuild stronger and greener economies, and weather future shocks to come.

Tackling climate change

As countries focus on economic recovery, the perennial problem of climate change cannot be forgotten. Experts say the slowdown caused by the pandemic is a chance for countries to rebuild greener and catch up on environmental targets.

The adoption of ICT can help drive the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Chen said. According to a report by international non-profit The Climate Group, ICT could reduce global carbon emissions by 7.8 GtCO2e (short for gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide) by 2020, an amount five times larger than its own carbon footprint. This is through technology such as smart vehicles, buildings, and grids.

Fostering economic recovery

During the pandemic, ICT has played a key role in ensuring business continuity and efficiency. China Southern Power Grid used a combination of artificial intelligence and drones to carry out power-line inspections, increasing inspection efficiency by 80 per cent without the need for people onsite, she said.

Digital transformations such as these – together with supporting government policies – will aid countries to revive economies devastated by the pandemic, said Chen. For instance, in July, the Vienna government dished out 27,000 euros worth of subsidies for local carriers to build more 5G base stations in the capital.

China has launched its “New Infrastructure” plan which aims to develop 5G, AI and transportation systems. The plan will support the deployment of over 800,000 5G base stations this year, Chen said. “This is set to drive the growth of China’s digital economy by more than 2 trillion dollars and boost the country’s economic recovery,” she added.

“Such policies are very helpful for infrastructure development and thus economic recovery across all sectors,” said Chen. “Every industry must work hard to transform digitally, because digital technology can bring huge benefits in efficiency and renewed growth.”

Closing the digital talent gap

A recent World Bank report highlighted the huge gap between the fast-growing global digital economy and a lack of digital skills. As digital technology becomes more widely used, countries need to ensure that their citizens are equipped with the relevant digital skills as well, said Chen.

Huawei’s flagship Seeds for the Future programme wants to help close this talent gap, she said. Established in 2008, the programme aims to develop local ICT talent, enhance knowledge sharing, and promote greater interest in ICT technology. It also encourages countries across different regions to build digital communities, Chen added.

“So far, this program has benefited more than 30,000 students from over 400 universities in 108 countries and regions,” said Chen. The program has moved online due to the pandemic, and Huawei hopes to open it up to more students than ever before.

Resilient economies and greener environments can be the future we are looking at – as long as countries are committed to ICT development.

The world will be “on track to build a better future together where no one will be left behind, and everyone can enjoy the benefits of technology,” said Chen.

Image by Huawei