Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) ECOSOC 2000 was successful in placing the United Nations in a strategic position to help bridge the digital divide.
The view that emerged at the high-level segment was that the United Nations could play a crucial and unique role in providing an interface between the information technology community and the development community. There was a consensus among all stakeholders that IT could be a key instrument for accelerating global development and international cooperation, and that the UN's contribution to development will be greatly reinforced if it proves able to adapt to, and use, IT effectively.
As a concrete follow-up to the Ministerial Declaration on IT adopted at the high-level segment, the Council decided, at the closing meeting of the session, that an UN-ICT Task Force (and a Trust Fund) should be created under the Secretary-General's leadership. This will further digital opportunities in developing countries, help formulate strategies for IT development, and forge a strategic partnership between the United Nations system, private industry foundations, donors, and other relevant stakeholders.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Information and communication technologies (ICTs), and particularly the Internet, are transforming broad areas where information is a central activity, including rural development and food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and its 180 Members highlight information as one of the priority areas in fighting hunger and achieving food security. As a result, FAO established the World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) for agricultural information management and dissemination, in an effort to fight hunger with information. WAICENT is FAO's strategic programme for improving access to essential documents, statistics, maps and multimedia resources to millions of users around the globe.
In July 2001, FAO and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory (MIT Media Lab) signed an agreement, which provides for WAICENT to serve as a platform for disseminating and supporting programmes initiated by the MIT Media Lab. For the first time, farmers and rural communities in remote and least developed areas will be able to use advanced information technologies for accessing email and the Web using pocket-sized, battery or solar energy-powered wireless communicators at a very low cost.
Another field of activity where ICT becomes increasingly important is Agricultural Information Management. The Report on the First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (Rome, 5-7 July 2000) highlights inter alia the fact that current government policy on the use of ICTs is primarily directed towards the management of telecommunications infrastructure. Rural populations are disadvantaged with regard to access to information and supporting ICTs. There is a need for broad-based and equitable access to ICTs in rural areas consistent with ongoing processes of decentralization, democratization and policy revisions, in the context of global and national governance considerations.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is required (by its mission statement) inter alia to assist its Member States, in the context of social and economic goals, in planning for and using nuclear science and technology for various peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity, and to facilitate the transfer of such technology and knowledge in a sustainable manner to developing Member States.
One of the activities of the IAEA, in the area of technology transfer, has become centered on the possibilities of using ICT to support the development of training centers in LDCs (Least Developed Country). E-learning is being used not only to transfer the knowledge about the use of a particular piece of nuclear technology, but is also being used to set up training centres in LDCs, so that the training effort becomes sustainable at the local level (i.e. training the trainers). Several projects (conducted jointly with FAO) have been initiated in the area of disease control and the improvement of animal productivity.
International Telecommunication Union (UIT) The International Telecommunication Union is the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for telecommunications. ITU’s membership includes 189 Member States and more than 650 private companies and other organizations. Through its conferences, assemblies and other meetings, ITU provides a multilateral forum where governments and the private sector can meet to broker agreements in areas of mutual interest. This form of public-private partnership is virtually unique among the organizations of the UN family.
New technologies, like the Internet and mobile telephony, have grown at a breathtaking rate during the last decade or so. Internet access and mobile phone ownership have become the norm for some. Many developed countries are now seeing mobile phones with the capacity to receive and display Internet content, video images and e?mail messages. Other countries however, still lack the wherewithal to extend basic telecommunication access to their peoples. Unless they can overcome some of the major obstacles to communications development, the global divide between the information-rich and information-poor is likely to grow still further.
By working to develop international standards that ensure the functioning and interoperability of communication systems, such as the IMT-2000 standard for third-generation telephone systems, for example, ITU’s Standardization Sector (ITU-T) provides an essential framework for the deployment of communication technologies.
The Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) is responsible for managing the radio-frequency spectrum, a valuable and finite resource, so that radio-based systems continue to function smoothly and provide reliable wireless services to the world's inhabitants. While governments have long been involved in spectrum management, the private sector is increasingly involved in its exploitation.
The Development Sector (ITU-D) works to facilitate connectivity and access, foster policy, regulatory and network readiness, expand human capacity through training programmes, formulate financing strategies and e-enable enterprises in developing countries.
ITU is also active in identifying emerging trends in telecommunications, producing regular statistics, studies on Internet-related issues, country case studies and publications and reports, as well as holding workshops on topics of current interest. These activities are partly to guide internal strategic orientations, but also to assist governments, policy-makers, regulators and private enterprises in establishing priorities for the optimum development of their own telecommunication policies.
Under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, ITU is taking the lead managerial role in the preparation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), in cooperation with relevant UN and other international agencies and the host countries Switzerland and Tunisia.
International Trade Center (ITC) Information and communication technologies are changing the face of business. But recognizing the potential of new and innovative technologies is one thing; effectively applying them to boost the bottom line is another. That's where the International Trade Centre can help. With the theme, 'The Changing Marketplace: Putting 'e' to Work', ITC is assisting SMEs in developing countries apply practical "e" solutions to boost exports and become more competitive in today's rapidly changing marketplace. By applying the benefits of new technologies, SMEs can do 'old' business in 'new' ways, better serving their existing customers as well as seizing and exploiting entirely new export opportunities and reaching out to new markets. ITC is also known for its work in bringing together governments and businesses in developing countries to establish effective and proven e-trade strategies that work to meet the needs of its clients.
ITC's dedicated portal www.intracen.org/wsis provides continuously updated information on ICT's e-related programmes, tools, services and publications. You can also register for the interactive workshops, held in partnership with seco, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs at the ICT for Development Platform. The workshops will address practical experiences about e-business development and focus on finding new ways of doing traditional business; seizing new ICT-related business opportunities; and helping SME exporters overcome the digital divide.
UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ICT-for-Development is one of the key areas on STDev, UNCTAD’s Internet gateway on Science and Technology for Development. The gateway (www.unctad.org/stdev/) provides continuously updated information on best practices in the assessment, transfer, adaptation and mastery of technology and also offers opportunities for partnering and networking for science and technology. Information can be accessed on the activities within the United Nations system and other relevant organizations, international science and technology-related treaties and protocols, as well as other international initiatives and events. STDev also hosts the homepage of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD).
Concerning more specific applications of ICT, UNCTAD produces analytical outputs in the field of e-commerce and development (www.unctad.org/ecommerce/) and organizes intergovernmental meetings, seminars and workshops to raise awareness and promote the exchange of experience among e-commerce practitioners and policy-makers in developing countries. Full access is available to the UNCTAD annual E-commerce and Development Report.
A number of technical cooperation programmes implemented by UNCTAD focus on practical applications of ICT to facilitate the integration of developing countries and their enterprises in international trade flows. These include:
The ASYCUDA customs reform and automation programme (www.asycuda.org), which uses IT developed by UNCTAD to increase fiscal revenue, improve efficiency for traders and fight corruption in close to a hundred developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
Gtpnet: an SME-oriented website providing access to information on business opportunities, trade-related regulations and market intelligence provided by Trade Points from all regions of the world.
The Advance Cargo Information System (ACIS, www.railtracker.com/) is a logistics information system developed by UNCTAD to improve transport efficiency in developing countries.
UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is mandated by its 184 Member States inter alia to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image and to foster international co-operation in the fields of communication, information and informatics in order to narrow the existing gap between the developed and the developing countries in these areas. Through the portal the reader gets access to a multitude of information, including a Free Software Portal, an Information Society Observatory, a Library and an Archive Portal.
UNESCO's Information for All Programmes provides a platform for international policy discussions and guidelines for action on preservation of information and universal access to it, participation of all in the emerging global information society and ethical, legal and societal consequences of ICT developments. The Information for All Programme provides a framework for international co-operation and international and regional partnerships. It supports the development of common strategies, methods and tools for building a just and free information society and for narrowing the gap between the information rich and the information poor.
Documentary heritage reflects the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures. It is the mirror of the world and its memory. But this memory is fragile. Every day, irreplaceable parts of this memory disappear for ever. UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme tries to preserve the documentary heritage of the world.
UNESCO is helping Member States, particularly the developing countries, to strengthen their communication capacities, to improve the training of communication professionals and to promote the concept of public service broadcasting. UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) is a specialised programme, devoted to strengthening the means of mass communication in developing countries, to assist in developing technical and human resources and to promote the transfer of technology UNESCO, given its mandate, concentrates on the "content" aspects of the Information Society, including information access, training and ethical issues. Through the portal webworld the reader can access theme pages on information policies and strategies, public domain, legal and ethical issues, and on infostructure (network development, information management etc.)
UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) UNITAR has been working on capacity building and training projects and programmes in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) since 1986 and has developed a strong and stable network of partnerships with experts and specialized institutions from all over the world. Partner institutions include UN Agencies, Inter- and Governmental bodies, NGOs, Technical institutions, Universities, engineering, as well as business companies.
UN Online Network in Public Administration and Finance (UNPAN) The United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance - at www.unpan.org - serves as a portal for public administration which is the only one such network in the world today. While its immediate objective is to establish an electronic platform linking related regional and national institutions online for information exchange, experience-sharing and on-the-job training in the area of public sector policy and management, its long-term objective is to build capacity, bridge the digital divide between the rich and the poor, and promote south-south cooperation of these regional and national institutions to access, process and disseminate relevant information via up-to-date ICTs for the promotion of better public administration. UNPAN provides five major services, which include information, training, technical advice, conferences and worldwide directories that focus on: public economic policy, governance and institutional building, civil service and public sector reform, management innovation and development and public finance. It is managed by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Public Economics and Public Administration, in cooperation with 15 relevant international and regional institutions.
World health Organization (WHO) In September 2000 the Secretary-General of the United Nations launched a public-private initiative as part of the UN Millennium Action plan to bridge the digital divide in health. Spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Health InterNetwork brings together international agencies, the private sector, foundations, non-governmental organizations and country partners under the principle of ensuring equitable access to health information. The aim is to improve public health by facilitating the flow of health information, using the Internet. Health information - relevant, timely and appropriate - must become unrestricted and affordable worldwide, so that all communities can benefit from this global public good.
The focus of the Health InterNetwork is on improving the information environment of health personnel in developing countries: professionals, researchers and scientists, and policy makers. The work will initially focus on public health programs determined as priority for communities, countries or regions thereby leveraging existing partnerships with other WHO and UN technical programs. The core elements of the project are Content, Internet connectivity and Capacity building.
World Meteorological Organization (WMO) The World Meteorological Organization coordinates global scientific activity to allow increasingly prompt and accurate weather information and other services for public, private and commercial use, including international airline and shipping industries. WMO's activities contribute to the safety of life and property, the socio-economic development of nations and the protection of the environment. Each day, high-speed links transmit over 15 million data characters and 2 000 weather charts through three World, 35 Regional and 183 National Meteorological Centres cooperating with each other in preparing weather analyses and forecasts in an elaborately engineered fashion.
In recent times, governments around the world have come under pressure from the forces of economic globalisation to reduce their public sector expenditure and to devolve to market processes the responsibility for many services formerly provided through government agencies, National Meteorological Services have come under increasing pressure in many countries to reduce expenditure and, in some cases, to move down the commercialisation-corporatisation-privatisation route. There is quite a lot of scope for governments, if they so wish and are willing to provide a supportive legal regime, to equip their National Meteorological Services to earn revenue from the provision of specialised services to individual users. But basic meteorological data is the near to perfect example of a common public good and Governments have to make sure that such data is provided to all, free of cost and at adequate standards.