Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Roundtable on the Reconstruction of Haiti's Telecommunication Sector

29 June 2010, St Michael, Barbados

Distinguished colleagues and partners,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here today, and I would like to thank you all for your commitment to this most important cause.

In particular I would like to thank the Government of Barbados and CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, for their support in hosting this round table event over the next two days, here in St Michael.

Cloud of words: Haiti, ICT, disaster, infastructure, services, connect,...As we all know too well, the earthquake on the 12th of January caused unprecedented loss of life and livelihoods in Haiti, and brought true devastation to a country which was already confronting development challenges.

ITU immediately joined international efforts to assist Haiti, and was quick to deploy communications solutions systems ranging from satellite terminals for search and rescue to WiMAX broadband to re-establish basic communication links in the stricken country.

We also set up a Qualcomm Deployable Base Station to enable vital wireless communications aimed at strengthening response and recovery mechanisms in the disaster zone. This allowed government and other humanitarian agencies to coordinate search and rescue operations; to facilitate the delivery of logistics; and to set up telemedicine facilities.

At the same time, I immediately allocated one million dollars of ITU resources, and launched an appeal to our membership and to the general public.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is all very good, but these are temporary measures and we must now move very rapidly forward and create more lasting solutions.

And that, of course, is why we are here today.

Haiti has lost so much, so let’s be bold in helping Haiti reconstruct its ICT sector. Let’s dream big!

Let’s do everything we can to ensure that Haiti gets state-of-the-art 21st century infrastructure, instead of simply replacing outdated 20th century equipment. And lets build in resilient features which will help to reduce network vulnerability in the future.

Let’s make sure that Haiti gets not just basic infrastructure but broadband infrastructure, giving the country communications networks which are worthy of such an indomitable nation.

I’m focusing on broadband, because at ITU we firmly believe that broadband will be essential to the social and economic development of all countries in the 21st century, wherever they are in the world, and whatever their level of economic development.

This is why ITU and UNESCO recently launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which will be reporting directly to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, just ahead of the MDG Summit in New York in September.

Returning to Haiti, many of you will know that I am an optimist, and I am confident that if the right steps are taken from the start, then Haiti can be transformed from a disaster zone into a modern, equitable, knowledge society. A society which has taken a daring leap into the future. A society where the full benefits of the information age are available to all.

By this I mean not just access to the internet or the ability to surf the web – though this is of course important in itself. I mean the ability to take advantage of the 21st century applications and services which are starting to transform nations around the world, rich and poor.

Services such as e-health, e-education, e-government, and e-environment. Services which allow much more to be done with much less. Services which will allow governments to much better serve their 21st century citizens. And services which will empower ordinary people across the nation in their lives and work.

Let me give just two concrete examples of the power of modern ICT services, used creatively:

Firstly, today there are around one billion people worldwide who have a mobile phone but no bank account. This is a huge opportunity which has already taken off in Kenya, where over a third of the adult population now use their mobile phones for banking. This has led to an estimated increase of an astonishing 30% in their annual income.

And secondly, for farmers, satellite-based intelligence services – costing less than fifteen US dollars per hectare annually – can increase yields by as much as 10%. And the benefits don’t stop there. Using satellite monitoring produces only 2% of the emissions generated by ordinary ground monitoring, which also saves money in reduced fuel bills.

These are just two of literally thousands of examples of how ICTs can deliver improvements in all fields of human endeavour in the modern world today.

Distinguished colleagues,

ICTs can also help us address the most pressing issues of our time – from disaster detection, prediction, and monitoring to climate change itself; from delivering better healthcare to optimizing energy supplies; from building smarter cities to creating more caring communities.

This means that ICTs will be absolutely fundamental in helping us accelerate progress towards each and every one of the Millennium Development Goals.

This is particularly important for Haiti, whose progress towards the MDGs has inevitably been compromised by an earthquake of this magnitude.

And this brings us back to ITU’s core mandate, which is to connect the world and help deliver the benefits of ICTs to all the world’s people. We do this through our daily work, of course, but also through key initiatives – such as the World Summit for the Information Society, which brought together all stakeholders at the highest level in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, and which set complementary targets to the MDGs.

More recently, we launched Connect the World, which started with the ITU Connect Africa Summit in Rwanda in 2007. This resulted in an astonishing US$ 55 billion in investment pledges for ICT infrastructure in Africa over a seven year period, and we have already seen US$ 21 billion spent on ICT infrastructure investment in Africa in the two years after Connect Africa took place. This is almost entirely thanks to the partnership between the public and private sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We cannot prevent natural disasters and emergencies, but – by harnessing the power of ICTs – we can certainly get better at forecasting and monitoring them, and mitigating their effects when they do occur.

Over 90% of disasters – notwithstanding Haiti’s own particular case – are weather-related, and driven by climate-change, so we can use satellite services for disaster prediction, detection, alerting and relief. And as satellite services become smarter and more sophisticated, we will save more lives each time a disaster occurs.

But we cannot do any of this without working together, in partnership.

In an increasingly complex, interconnected world, this is true in every domain. I am therefore pleased to see that we have with us in the room today so many different stakeholders – from UN agencies and governments; from regulators and from financial institutions; from the public and private sectors.

I have said it before but it bears repeating here: alone we can do so little; together we can achieve so much.

We have already proved this, in our early response to Haiti, which we delivered in partnership with organizations like FedEx, ICO, Inmarsat, Iridium, Qualcomm, SmartBridges, Vizada, and many others – and which was so much more effective than anything we could have done on our own.

Indeed, it is the power of these partnerships – which were forged in some cases and strengthened in others in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake – which inspired us to organize this round table here in Barbados.

We are here to explore the best ways we can work together to intensify our work in Haiti, and I cannot over-emphasize the importance of these efforts.

So let me ask you – to paraphrase the words of Kennedy in his inaugural address in 1961 – not what Haiti can do for you, but what you can do for Haiti!

Think what would or could be your best contribution – and make it better still!

How can we partner to create value that is much greater than the sum of our parts? Let’s look at co-financing arrangements; investment opportunities; working with the private sector; in-kind contributions; ways we can help with sectoral reform. Let’s look at human capacity building and training initiatives.

And in so doing, let’s not just work for Haiti, but for all countries in strengthening disaster-preparedness, setting up early warning systems, and other disaster risk reduction initiatives.

So in closing, therefore, let me make a clear appeal for new and increased partnership – so that we can honour our commitments to Haiti, and quickly see the country’s ICT infrastructure restored and improved.

An ICT infrastructure which serves the people of Haiti as they move away from the January tragedy and towards a brighter future.

An ICT infrastructure that we can all be proud of

Thank you.