I am here today to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, and how Information and Communication Technologies – ICTs – can help us to achieve them.
I therefore congratulate the Espace Afrique Internationale, ACSO and the International Alliance for the Millennium Development Goals, along with all their sponsors, particularly the United Nations NGO Liaison Office and OIF.
But first I would like to say a few words about the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti last week, resulting in a huge loss of life and destroying the homes and livelihoods of vast numbers of Haitians.
Early relief efforts were hugely hampered by the collapse of Haiti’s ICT infrastructure. ITU has done the little that it can – in sending around 100 satellite terminals to Haiti re-establish basic communications; in setting up a Qualcomm Deployable Base Station; and in sending experts to Haiti to set up equipment and assess how networks can be rehabilitated.
ITU has made available US$ 1 million from its ICT development fund and its emergency communication fund and has appealed to all its Member States and Sector Members.
Let me urge all ITU Members, as well as members of other organizations and members of the general public to pledge their support to Haiti at this time, and to do all they can to help.
Moreover, the provision of assistance to Haiti should be seen within a humanitarian framework requiring immediate response, while not losing sight of the short-, medium- and long-term goals.
Returning to today’s agenda, I am especially pleased to see that the four main themes for this year’s Forum are: health, education, environment and governance.
The reason I am pleased is that, in each of these four areas, ICTs can play a vital role in helping us meet the Millennium Development Goals.
When the Millennium Declaration was approved in the year 2000, world leaders expected ICTs to provide a unique contribution to meeting the MDGs.
We are now almost two thirds of the way to the 2015 deadline, and I can confirm that ICTs have indeed been playing a huge part in getting us there.
Over the past decade, ICTs have helped prevent AIDS and other communicable diseases. They have brought education to many millions – and especially women. They have improved farming practices fostered environmental protection. And they have helped governments to become more efficient and more equitable.
ICT-based systems and services – such as telemedicine, distance learning, satellite monitoring and e-government – are improving the quality of life for countless people around the world.
My dear friends,
Looking at our four themes today, let me cite some specific examples:
Where health is concerned, ICTs are helping to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
More than 50 television networks are working directly to expand public knowledge and understanding, not only increasing awareness and prevention, but also helping to remove the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Satellite monitoring helps identify, target and control mosquito breeding areas, helping to reduce malaria.
And telemedicine is making possible great advances in the fight against tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, as well as many chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Turning to education, ICTs are helping to achieve universal primary education, as well as promote gender equality and empower women.
Distance learning is being widely used to train school teachers, for example, or to deliver information, education and critical life-skills, over solar-powered radios, to orphans in Rwanda.
Distance learning is also being used to help break the cycle of women’s poverty by teaching girls and women in remote areas to read, learn maths, and develop basic ICT skills.
In this context, ITU has launched ‘Connect a School, Connect a Community’, a new public-private partnership effort to promote broadband school connectivity to serve both students and the communities in which they live.
This flagship ITU initiative supports countries worldwide in connecting all schools to broadband Internet services by 2015.
ICTs are also helping to ensure environmental sustainability.
Through initiatives as diverse as using radio programmes to promote better farming practices; using satellites to monitor rain forests, glaciers and the polar regions; and reducing the energy requirements of new technology.
Satellites are also tremendously important in helping to increase food output and reduce emissions. Satellite-based intelligence services for farmers, for example, which cost less than US$ 15 per hectare annually, can increase yields by as much as 10%. And using satellite monitoring produces 98% fewer emissions than ordinary ground monitoring.
By providing direct, valuable agricultural information online, ICTs can also help farmers vastly improve the productivity of their land – by planting the right seeds, using the right fertilizer and weeding and harvesting at the right time.
ICTs also continue to make an important difference in the progressive move globally towards e-government.
E-government brings with it huge benefits. It allows governments to manage information and deliver services much more efficiently and effectively. And at the same time, it facilitates public participation in government and promotes transparency – which is essential to maintaining public confidence and trust in government and civil services.
The full benefits require a secure ICT infrastructure; the right ICT support systems; an ICT-fluent population; and a sound strategy both to deliver quality e-government services and to encourage the public to use them.
In developing countries and emerging markets special attention needs to be dedicated to increasing mass access to computers and the Internet; increasing bandwidth; and putting in place strong e-commerce legislation.
Education also needs to take place within government itself, to demonstrate the full advantages and benefits of the transition to e-government.
ICTs have now become ubiquitous. The number of mobile cellular subscriptions globally will very probably pass the five billion mark in 2010, and we are well on the way to having two billion people worldwide with access to the Internet.
But there are still dramatic inequalities across different regions.
Africa has been the fastest-growing mobile market over the past decade, averaging over 40% growth annually, but still remains the least well-served region in the world.
And there is a truly-worrying new digital divide being created, just as we are successfully delivering basic communications access to almost all the world’s people.
I am referring to the broadband divide which is opening up, and which risks further disadvantaging those who live in the developing world.
In the twenty-first century, affordable broadband access to the Internet is becoming as vital to social and economic development as networks like transport, water and power.
And while there are indeed positive trends, growth rates and access speeds are still nowhere near fast enough – and costs remain prohibitive, especially in Africa.
This is a bigger and more serious issue than many people realize.
While broadband users speed along the Internet superhighway, dial-up users are left stuck in traffic jams, unable to benefit from anything like the full online experience.
Do we want to lock away the riches of the modern world from our brothers and sisters in Africa?
Of course we don’t!
To do so would be unfair, unjust, and immoral.
With technology, regulation, ingenuity and sheer determination, I believe we can find the right answers.
Broadband can do even more than basic ICTs to help us achieve the MDGs – and we have so little time left.
But working together, for our common future, I believe we can succeed.
Indeed, we must succeed!