The Case for Knapsack in the Middle East and North Africa

As a specific example of how Knapsack for Hope can be used to increase information accessibility, let’s take a closer look at the Middle East and North Africa region (hereafter referred to as MENA). This region is an important case study when examining internet connectivity and digital access. Though it contains a plethora of different cultures, languages, and stages of economic development, overall many countries in this region face common conflicts such as war, limited infrastructure, media restrictions, and educational inequalities. These factors result in lack of equal digital access.

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MENA has unfortunately experienced a lot of war and conflict. While the causes of these conflicts is a point of debate and much scholarly inquiry, their results are all too real. Lives are lost. Families are separated. Those remaining are left to experience more problems: loss of infrastructure, educational facilities and content, income, and stability. Structurally sound buildings may not exist for children to go to school in. Infrastructure needed for internet is damaged and cannot be maintained. Jobs are not available, and thus income needed for internet is difficult to accrue.

As the world has seen, such conflicts result in the internal displacement of millions of people. The MENA region contains the highest displacement levels in the world. By the end of 2015, 6.6 million people were internally displaced in Syria alone. 5.9 million people fled into exile. This means that more than 11 million people from Syria had to leave behind homes, belongings, jobs, farms, schools, and other stable circumstances conducive to education, learning, and digital access. Syria is just one country in this region. MENA is home to various other countries with high levels of displaced persons: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and north and South Sudan.  

War and conflict also cause some governments to censor the limited internet citizens may have. MENA is one of the most heavily censored regions in the world. The latest report by Freedom House on the status of freedom around the world indicates that with the exception of a few countries, MENA mainly represents the “not-free” region.  

Additionally, monthly internet connection fees and the cost of purchasing and maintaining equipment needed for internet is costly amidst these conflicts and other infrastructural obstacles. As an example, an average cable of ADSL Internet connection with unlimited data costs $16 per month in Yemen, approximately 20% of average income in the country.  

Due to these aforementioned and other factors, the average internet penetration rate in the MENA region is only 27.6% in a 2013 sample study of 18 countries. To specify a few more, Algeria’s is 18.1%, the West Bank’s is 25.1%, and Iraq’s is 6.7%. This means that on average, only a quarter of the population in MENA has access to the internet.  

A Knapsack Mission

These are the kind of circumstances and digital divides Knapsack for Hope was created to address and to improve. Knapsack is driven by a belief that information exchange is critical to improving the human condition. In order for the human condition to improve, more than 27.6% of people -the average internet penetration rate in MENA- need access to digital connection with others.  

How can Knapsack improve digital connection in MENA?

Knapsack harnesses the technology people already use- even in economically developing countries: satellite. Here are some reasons why that matters in MENA.

  • The use of satellite is a lot more popular and ubiquitous. Compared to an average internet penetration rate of 27.6% in MENA, 95% of households in Yemen have access to satellite television.
  • Satellite tv is cheaper to purchase and to maintain. In Yemen regular satellite equipment needed for satellite tv and for Knapsack is available for as low as a one-time expense of $50.
  • Satellite technology is untraceable for those wishing to view digital content anonymously. As MENA has been identified as one of the most heavily censored regions in the world, anonymous use is crucial for those viewing censored digital content. 
  • Satellite tv and cell phones -both of which are used to read, watch, or listen to Knapsack content- are still highly used in refugee camps and developing communities. Wi-Fi and internet are not. This matters because of the high levels of displacement in MENA. Millions are living in refugee camps or in other kind of communities without strong technological infrastructure.  

This is a “reader’s digest” explanation of how Knapsack for Hope really can bring palpable, noticeable results. Knapsack’s use of satellite technology is only one reason why we feel it's an answer to global disconnection. Do you want to hear the other reasons? Keep following us. Keep reading. Even better, contact us and ask us specific questions. Keep us on our toes and keep us accountable.

 

SOURCES

Gelvanovska, Natalija, Michel Rogy, and Carlo Maria Rossotto. "Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa: Accelerating High-Speed Internet Access." Directions in Development: Communication and Information Technologies (2014): 24-25. The World Bank. Web. 1 June 2017. <https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/16680>.

"Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy." Freedom in the World 2017. Freedom House, 2017. Web. <https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017>.

"With 1 human in every 113 affected, forced displacement hits record high." Unhcr.org. UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, 20 June 2016. Web. 1 June 2017. <http://www.unhcr.org/afr/news/press/2016/6/5763ace54/1-human-113-affected-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html>.

World Bank Report, 2015

Sarah Bowers