I am usually very careful to ensure that I write on this blog only about dubious use of the English language. Indeed, many dozens of examples come to my attention that I do not even mention here. Occasionally, however, I stretch a point to draw attention to deeper – and, some would say, less pedantic – examples of how society’s values are changing for the worse.
A case in point is today’s piece on BBC News online headed “South Sudan: Women raped ‘as reward for fighters‘”. Tucked away in the article is the sentence “The East African nation is rich in oil but it is also one of the least developed regions on earth – only 15% of its citizens own a mobile phone.”
What has the world come to when the level of development of one of the world’s poorest nations is measured by access to mobile phones? South Sudan has some of the worst health indicators in the world. Surely a more valid figure would be the proportion of the population that has access to fresh running water.
My work once took me to one of the poorest countries in West Africa and I can tell you that a reliable water supply is a better indication of “development” than the number of mobile phones (though these are important, too, as they can, for example, give farmers access to market prices). The BBC article in question relates to the newest country in the world, ravaged by civil war – arguably brought about by the government’s own actions – with two million people displaced and 40% in need of food aid. The availability of water is a bigger issue for them than whether they have a mobile phone.