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BDT Director's Speeches

Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-19) Opening Speech
Balaclava, Mauritius  06 March 2019







Honourable Mr Yogida Sawmynaden, Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation,

Honorable Mr Etienne Sinatambou, Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity, and Environment and Sustainable Development,

Mr Mahmad Aleem Bocus, Chairman of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority, 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to open the 3rd Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications here in Balaclava, Mauritius, as the newly elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. I thank our host, the government of Mauritius, and in particular the Information and Communication Technologies Authority and the Ministry of Technology, Communication and Innovation, for your generous hospitality and for making us all feel so welcome. 

Mauritius is a Small Island Developing State that is itself vulnerable to natural hazards. To mitigate the risks to citizens and to vital public and private infrastructure, the government has been far-sighted in taking important steps to reduce the impact of disasters and improve resiliency. I am sure we all look forward to hearing about and learning from the Mauritius experience during the course of this conference.

The theme of this year’s GET event, ‘Innovating together to save lives: using technologies in disaster management’ reflects the fact that natural hazards continue to have devastating impacts on people and economies across the globe.

In the decade from 2007 to 2017, the world recorded an annual average of 350 disasters resulting in 68,000 deaths, 210 million people affected, and over 150 billion dollars worth of damage.

Human and material losses caused by such disasters are a major obstacle to sustainable development. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN, four goals specifically refer to the need for nations and communities to address the challenges brought about by disasters.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction recognizes the important role of ICTs in all phases of disaster management, and technological advancement and innovation are continuing to create exciting new opportunities for enhancing disaster resiliency and risk reduction. 

The important role played by ICTs was highlighted in the Caribbean back in 2017, when two Category-5 hurricanes, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, hit the region. Telecommunications and ICT networks and services were extensively employed ahead of time to track the path of these hurricanes, to predict their impact, and to provide life-saving information. I am looking forward very much to hearing from key stakeholders about the lessons learned in the Caribbean in the high-level debate later today.
Today, more than half of the world’s population is using the Internet and mobile networks and services are offering unprecedented way to communicate before, during and after disasters strike. During the course of the next three days, we’ll look at how ICTs are making a difference to humanitarian teams working on the ground during an emergency – often in very difficult circumstances and under great pressure – by providing resilient tools and platforms that allow organizations to communicate internally, to coordinate with other humanitarian agencies, and to reach out to communities in need. 

We’ll also look at how new services such as digital payments and digital identification could offer real benefits to communities in need, if we could just solve the challenges around providing access. Right now, many of the world’s most vulnerable population groups, including refugees, still do not benefit from connectivity, or lack the necessary digital skills to take advantage of online platforms and services that could help them. 

Other conference sessions will discuss innovative ways of re-establishing connectivity in the advent of a disaster, and at some of the technological innovations that are creating new possibilities for enhancing disaster resiliency and risk reduction. These include developments in disruptive technologies – such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data – and innovations in areas like robotics and drone technology.

Throughout the week, our emphasis will be on ‘innovating together’ through concrete new partnerships – for example, helping countries to develop national emergency telecommunication plans, or to build Disaster Connectivity Maps – an initiative that will bring together key public and private sector members to identify better ways of understanding connectivity gaps following disasters.   

I am also looking forward very much to the Table-Top Exercise on Thursday, which is co-organized by ITU and the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster. The objective of this session is to engage participants in an interactive learning experience that highlights the importance of coordination and the roles of different stakeholders from the ICT community, disaster management agencies, meteorological offices, and other public and private sector bodies. 

A reminder, too, that Friday March 8th is International Women’s Day, which gives us all a great occasion to reflect on the digital gender divide, gender roles, and the particular ways in which women can be affected by disasters. 

I thank you for your attention.