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More access to mobile phones than toilets - UNESCO

Published:Friday | June 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

More people now have access to mobile phones than toilet facilities, a new UNESCO study has found.

Of the world's near seven-billion population, more than six billion have access to a working mobile phone.

To put this number in perspective, only 4.5 billion people have access to a toilet, says the report Reading in the mobile era: A Study of Mobile Reading in Developing Countries.

"Collectively, mobile devices are the most ubiquitous information and communication technology (ICT) in history. More to the point, they are plentiful in places where books are scarce," the UNESCO report says.

Even the least expensive mobile handsets now allow users to access to information, with evidence of women and men, girls and boys reading multiple books and stories on mobile phones that can be purchased for less than US$30.

UNESCO sees the development as an opportunity for further engagement.

"An estimated 6.9 billion mobile subscriptions would provide a direct pipeline to digital books. The current study - by breaking down who reads on mobile devices and for what reasons - is a road map for governments, organisations and individuals who wish to help people better leverage mobile technology for reading," said the researchers.

The report says that younger people are more likely to read on a mobile device than older people and that older people will likely require significantly more guidance.

In absolute terms, male mobile readers outnumber female mobile readers three to one in the countries studied. However, women read for an average of 19 minutes 11 times monthly, while men read for an average of 10 minutes three to four times each month.


A global study of women living on less than US$2 per day found that while 77 per cent of them had made a mobile phone call and 37 per cent had sent a text message, only two per cent had ever used mobile Internet services.

However, the gender balance tilts to a female majority for the most active readers across countries.

Among the top 2,000 active readers, over 59 per cent are female; among the top 1,000 active readers, 72 per cent are female; and among the top 100 active readers, 80 per cent are female.

The UNESCO study said that although men currently make up the majority of mobile readers, women clearly dominate in terms of both frequency of app use and time spent reading.