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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
Hardly anyone in this business today has any doubts about the tremendous impact electronic communications has had on printing-writing papers and particularly on newsprint. The electronic culprits range from TV sets, to computers of many and various sizes and configurations, and to hand-held telephones with amazing capabilities and capacities. All these modern wonders and their effects on paper communications have been much written and talked about.

What has not been recognized and discussed by us reporters and writers and by paper industry leaders in the developed nations of North America and Europe is the effect of literacy rates on the consumption of communication papers. People who cannot read have no use for newspapers, government and commercial literature, instruction manuals, printed advertising and so forth ad infinitum.

UNESCO reports that the global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is 86.3%. The global literacy rate for all males is 90.0% and the rate for all females is 82.7%. Sounds good--until we factor in the fact that global rates are inflated by the developed nations rate of 99.2%. Literacy rates throughout the rest of the world are lower. Oceania's rate is 71.3%. The South and West Asia rate is 70.2%. The sub-Saharan rate is 64%.

Over 75% of the world's 781 million illiterate adults are found in South Asia, West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Women account for almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally.

Data from the American CIA lists the 10 countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world. They are Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Niger, Mali, Chad, Somalia, Ethiopia, Guinea and Benin--all in Africa and all with growing populations. The only non-African nation in the top 10 is Afghanistan. Literacy rates in these countries range from a low of 22% to a high of 42%.

How much communication papers would these countries consume if their people could read and write? We who make our livings in and around the paper industry can't blame it all on our computers. Low levels of literacy stifle the use of paper for communications. Increasing levels of literacy will increase the consumption of paper. Is this a righteous project for some consortia of papermakers?

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.


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