By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
India is in the midst of the biggest national identification project in the country’s history. The aim is for every Indian to receive a voluntary electronic identification card containing his or her details and a unique number. Called an Aadhaar, it is a 12-digit unique number registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (http://uidai.gov.in) (UIDAI). The project joins a growing trend across the global South to map populations in order to better achieve development goals.
About one-third of the world’s urban dwellers live in slums, and the United Nations estimates that number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. How to improve slum-dwellers’ living conditions and raise their standard of living is the big challenge of the 21st century.
With just four years to go until the 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg), and the current economic downturn reversing some gains, any tool that can make development decisions more precise has to be a benefit.
Innovators are turning to the opportunities afforded by digital technologies to reach slums and poor areas. The approaches vary, from India’s national identification system to new ways of using mobile phones and Internet mapping technologies. With mobile phones now available across much of the global South, and plans underway to expand access to broadband internet even in poorly served Africa, it is becoming possible to develop a digital picture of a slum and poor areas and map population needs.
Put to the right use, this powerful development tool can fast-track the delivery of aid and better connect people to markets and government services. In a country of severe regional disparities and caste (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste) divisions, the national identification number has the advantage of not documenting people in a way that would bring prejudice.
India’s Aadhaar is intended to serve a number of goals, from increasing national security to managing citizen identities, facilitating e-governance initiatives and tackling illegal immigration. While critics of ID schemes complain about the civil liberties implications of national identity card projects (www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk), it is a fact that countries that want to increase the social benefits available to their citizens need to understand who those citizens are, where they live and what their social needs are. India’s problem to date has been a lack of knowledge of its citizens: many millions exist in a limbo world of not being known to local authorities.
The unique number is stored in a database and contains details on the person’s demographics (name, age, etc.) and biometrics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biometrics) – a photograph, 10 fingerprints and an iris scan. Residents in an area find out about the Aadhaar through various sources, from local media to local government agencies. An ‘Enrolment Camp’ is established in the area where people go to register, bringing anything they have that can prove their identity. The biometric scanning takes place here. ID cards are issued between 20 and 30 days later.
On January 13, 2011 the project declared it had registered its millionth person, a 15-year-old named Sukrity from North Tripura. The goal is to register 600 million people in the next four years.
One of the immediate advantages to many poor people is gaining access to banking services for the first time, because an Aadhaar number is accepted as sufficient ID to open a bank account. The identification authority says the scheme will be “pivotal in bringing financial services to the millions of unbanked people in the country, who have been excluded so far because of their lack of identification.”
The Times of India reported in 2010 that Khaiver Hussain, a homeless man in an addiction treatment programme, was able to get a bank account after receiving the identification number. He was able to open an account with the Corporation Bank along with 27 other homeless people. Having a bank account has removed the fear he had of being robbed of his meagre savings while he slept.
Another homeless day labourer, Tufail Ahmed from Uttar Pradesh, said “This passbook and the UID card have given people like me a new identity. It has empowered us.” He has been able to use the saved money to rent a room with four other day labourers.
In countries where no national ID card schemes exist, people are turning to other methods to register and map populations in order to improve their living conditions.
In Kenya and Brazil, digital mapping projects are underway using mobile phones to paint a picture of the population living in slum areas and shanty towns. An NGO called Map Kibera (www.mapkibera.org) began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. The Map Kibera project uses an open-source software programme, OpenStreetMap (www.openstreetmap.org), to allow users to edit and add information as it is gathered.
An NGO called Rede Jovem (www.redejovem.org.br) is deploying youths armed with GPS (global positioning system)-equipped (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System)mobile phones to map the favelas of Rio de Janerio.
Powerful tools now exist to aid digital mapping. Google Maps (www.maps.google.com) is one example.
While the project is impressively ambitious – and it remains to be seen if it is completed as planned – the economic and development implications of this vast data collection and national identification are enormous. It will enable very accurate identification of markets and needs and also of development challenges and needs. This should lead to many business innovations in the country in coming years and also draw in more business from outside the country.
Published: April 2011
1) Ushahidi is a website that was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The new Ushahidi Engine has been created to use the lessons learned from Kenya to create a platform that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them. It is being built so that it can grow with the changing environment of the web, and to work with other websites and online tools. Website:http://blog.ushahidi.com/
2) Google Android: Get inventing! This software enables anyone to start making applications for mobile phones. And it offers a platform for developers to then sell their applications (apps). Website: www.android.com
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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