War, famine, disease. Never mind – 1bn PCs built

Charity appeal

A billion PCs have rolled off the world's production lines according to Gartner Dataquest today. No, more, the milestone was reached in April this year.

So that would translate into how many thousands of tonnes of lead and hundreds of tonnes of cadmium? How many water supplies destroyed, how many tens of thousands of poisoned acres of Chinese farming land?

Gartner's not saying. But imagine the transformation of economies, as the world presses forward to two billion PCs. Especially when true broadband (i.e fat pipes in excess of 10Mbps) becomes ubiquitous.

No mention of the digital divide here: the computer industry talks a lot about bridging the Digital Divide, but it is chasing a chimera.

In the hierarchy of needs, shelter, safety, food clean water - a billion people worldwide don't have access to safe water, 2.4bn don't have adequate sanitation - all rank higher than broadband-connected PCs.

The computer industry is run by rich optimistic technophiles. A billion people or so have access to PCs, the rest will join sooner or later, the reasoning goes. Probably sooner - look at China, look at India catching up fast (Bill and Melinda Gates are honorable and huge exceptions).

But not sub-Sarahan Africa, home of 300 million dirt-poor people, where life expectancy has declined from 50 to 47 since 1980, where AIDs is on the rampage, where only 12 per cent of the roads are paved, and only 3 per cent of the population have access to a telephone line or mobile phone.

In sub-Sarahan Africa, 99 per cent of children don't have access to PCs, even in schools, according to ComputerAid, which describes itself as "the world's largest non-profit supplier of computers to developing countries".

Tomorrow we will be running an appeal on behalf of ComputerAid which is looking for end-of-life PCs to refurb and set up in non-profit organisations in Africa. Unfortunately this will run only in the UK. If there are any other PC recycling-for-developing- countries charities out there, let us know and we'll add you to the list. ®

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