THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) said closing the digital divide and infrastructure gap in developing Southeast Asia will help ensure their recovery from the pandemic.

ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said Wednesday that developing countries need to keep up with digital innovation and devote more resources to expanding access to the internet to enable more people to work from home.

“These steps can also enhance access to basic social services such as health and education, and access to financial services. These investments will better equip countries to address the worsening income inequality and disparities in opportunities brought about by the pandemic,” Mr. Asakawa said during ADB’s first Southeast Asia Development Symposium.

In an Oct. 6 report, the bank said the Philippine digital divide is still significant with 60% of households having no access to the internet. Internet services also remained among the most expensive and slowest in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Asakawa said concerns over cyber security should also be addressed by governments, firms and the citizens as threats emerge along with the accelerated digitalization.

ADB Vice-President Ahmed Saeed said at the same forum that digital innovation could help alleviate poverty by building robust systems for social protection programs.

Mr. Saeed said countries, especially those that do not have a national ID system, face problems in rolling out their social protection programs. He said these issues can be prevented in the future if the necessary systems are established.

“What we also want to do is to make sure that we have a system that is more robust so that in the next time we have a problem, we’re not in the bad circumstances we are in today… There was a clear difference between countries that have the ability to uniquely identify individuals through national IDs or similar systems than those that didn’t,” he said.

“We can see how digital innovation can drive more robustness which can alleviate human suffering,” he added. — Beatrice M. Laforga