Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a pleasure to join you this morning, as we prepare to tackle the important
task of developing strategies to increase connectivity across the Caribbean
As we all know, ICTs have emerged as the great enabler of modern society,
helping people communicate across distance and across cultural divides,
facilitating trade, and providing access to the educational resources and
information that are vital to just about every human endeavour.
Nowhere are these enormous benefits more apparent than in the Caribbean, where
ICTs provide the vital bridge between communities separated by formidable
geographical barriers. ICTs also help the region leverage its many assets – from
an extraordinary natural heritage that attracts more than 15 million visitors
each year, to its primary producers in agriculture and fisheries, to its booming
service sector, where outsourced call centres in particular are forecast to
generate tens of thousands of new jobs over the next few years.
The UN World Summit for the Information Society, hosted by ITU in 2003 and 2005,
highlighted the importance of ICTs to the economic development of every country
and every community on our planet. The Resolutions and commitments that emerged
from that Summit helped spur the eLAC2007 Plan of Action for connecting the
Caribbean and broader Americas region. They also prompted ITU to embark on a new
series of initiatives aimed at accelerating efforts to build the enabling
environment, core infrastructure, and applications and services essential to
tomorrow’s Knowledge Societies.
The first of these new initiatives, Connect Africa, was held last year in
Kigali, Rwanda. Leveraging the success of our Connect the World
multi-stakeholder development programme, the event drew an unprecedented level
of participation and support from regional and international leaders, and
generated over 55 billion dollars of investment commitments. These funds and
in-kind contributions have been pledged to key regional projects, including new
wireless and fixed network infrastructure and work to streamline and harmonize
I am most encouraged, therefore, that CANTO has decided to build on this
momentum through an event focused on the very particular needs of the Caribbean
region. ITU will be only too delighted to channel the important inputs and
initiatives generated over the next three days of top-level discussions into a
broader ITU Connect Americas event, which I hope will help you further
capitalize on the growing interest among investors in financing ICT projects
that fall outside traditional mainstream markets.
ITU is already pleased to be actively involved in a number of projects to help
strengthen connectivity across the Caribbean. We’re currently working to improve
spectrum management in the region, alongside partners like the Caribbean
Telecommunications Union, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the
To create an enabling environment conducive to future ICT growth, we recently
launched a Caribbean ICT market harmonization project, funded by the European
Union and involving all key regional stakeholders. This project will develop
common guidelines for harmonized policies, legislation and regulatory
procedures, and provide capacity building to ensure effective implementation of
I’m also proud to report that our Caribbean Centre of Excellence is proving to
be one of our most successful capacity building initiatives, thanks to the large
and varied number of participating institutions and public and private sector
Ladies and gentlemen,
ICTs are a vital business facilitator. They are an essential tool for education
and for healthcare. But there are two more very good reasons why we must work as
fast as possible to Connect the Caribbean.
The first is climate change. Commendably, the Caribbean region is not an
important emitter of greenhouse gases. Regrettably, however, it is almost
certain to be one of the earliest regions to feel the first major effects of the
carbon-hungry habits of the industrialized, and industrializing, worlds.
Rising temperatures and rising sea levels are of obvious concern to a region
comprised of small island states, whose economies are highly dependent on
tourism, agriculture and fishing. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre
estimates that sea levels are now rising by 2 millimetres per year, with
projections for much steeper change in the next four decades. Rising
temperatures can adversely affect crop and fishing yields, as well as damaging
the natural marine environments that currently serve as a major tourist draw.
Because ICTs are one of the most powerful weapons we have at our disposal to
track and combat climate change, ITU is making climate change a key policy
Sophisticated computer modeling is absolutely critical to our understanding of
mankind’s impact on the environment. Likewise, strategically-placed ICT-enabled
monitoring systems are helping amass the data essential to accurately track
changes in our environment.
As the steward of the world’s radiofrequency resources, ITU is committed to
allocating the necessary spectrum to support radiocommunication systems and
satellites used for climate monitoring and control, weather forecasting, remote
sensing and disaster prediction and detection. Last year’s Radiocommunication
Assembly and World Radiocommunication Conference adopted a number of Resolutions
on studies related to remote-sensing, which has become a vital component in the
science of climate change.
In the future, it is to be hoped that such systems will be able to warn us of
impending thresholds, or longer-term effects, and that we’ll be able to use the
information generated by these systems not only to convince policymakers around
the world to act more quickly, but to prepare for negative repercussions and
adapt our national plans to help minimize the impact on the lives of local
The second – and related – reason for ramping up ICT capacity across the
Caribbean region is disaster preparedness and emergency telecommunications. Over
the past two decades, Hurricanes Dean, Wilma, Lenny, Mitch and others have cost
billions of dollars in destruction of basic infrastructure and public property
like schools and hospitals, in lost agricultural output and lost tourist
dollars, and in lost jobs and depressed economic growth.
As the impact of climate change becomes more profound, extreme weather
conditions seem likely to worsen. 2005 was already the worst year on record for
Atlantic hurricanes. Let us pray that it remains so. But we must also take the
necessary steps to prepare and protect our local populations.
ITU has long been active in the area of emergency telecommunications, and
continues to ramp up activities to meet global need. The Tampere Convention,
which was brokered by ITU in 1998, plays a vital role in emergency response by
providing a cross-border framework for rapid deployment of ICTs for humanitarian
Let me therefore take this opportunity to urge all countries to ratify this
crucial treaty, so that we may harness the power of today’s advanced
communication systems to alleviate much unnecessary suffering.
ICTs are a vital tool in early warning systems. Following the Asian tsunami in
2004, ITU has been working with international partners to develop new early
warning systems that can help avert loss of life and property.
When disasters do occur, ICTs – particularly wireless telephony and satellite
communications – play a critical role in rescue and clean-up efforts, helping
aid teams on the ground coordinate their activities and get extra help where it
is most needed. ITU partners with a large number of equipment and network
providers, as well as governments and NGOs, to provide access to resources like
satellite communications and handheld wireless systems wherever they’re needed.
So far in 2008, we’ve provided emergency satellite links and terminals to China,
following the Sichuan earthquake, to Myanmar, to help after Cyclone Nargis, and
to Zambia, in the wake of massive flooding in March.
ITU also has a Memorandum of Understanding with international NGO Telecoms Sans
Frontières, whose volunteer experts travel to disaster zones to set up fast
emergency communication links. By improving the speed and effectiveness of
response, these links can play a vital role in saving lives and helping reunite
families and loved ones.
Through Programme 6 of our Doha Action Plan, we’re also working with a range of
UN and other agencies to develop Minimum Operating Procedures for disaster
relief, to carry out infrastructure damage assessments and network
rehabilitation activities, and to provide special assistance to Small Island
Developing States most vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of global warming.
ICTs have so much to offer, and perhaps nowhere more than here, in the
Caribbean. It is therefore highly encouraging to see initiatives such as this
event, which will help pave the way towards increased connectivity – not just in
the Caribbean, but across the Americas as a whole.