Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

QITCOM 2012 : Opening Ceremony

Keynote Speech

05 March 2012, Doha, Qatar

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Doha this morning, and to share this opening session with two such high calibre speakers – Dr Hessa Al Jaber, who is not only Secretary-General of ICT Qatar, but who has also just joined the Broadband Commission for Digital Development; and Mr Rashid Al-Naimi, Chairman and CEO of MEEZA, and Vice President of Administration of the Qatar Foundation.

I would like to take a few minutes this morning to talk about the importance of broadband in social and economic development, and to say a few words about the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

The past twenty years has been an extraordinary time for the development of information and communication technologies – and with the ‘mobile miracle’ we have brought the benefits of ICTs within reach of virtually all the world’s people.

It is now time to make the next step, and to ensure that everyone – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances – has access to the benefits of broadband.

This is not just about delivering connectivity for connectivity’s sake – or even about giving people access to the undoubted benefits of social communications.

It is about leveraging the power of connected technologies – and especially mobile technologies – to make the world a better place.

Most importantly, broadband will help us accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, now only just three years away.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will be vital in helping to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government.

It will help us address the biggest issues of our time – such as climate change and environmental sustainability – and it will revolutionize the way goods and services are created, delivered and used.

We are already seeing this with the extraordinary wealth of apps – increasing by tens of thousands every day – which are available for mobile devices.

Already we are seeing mobile phones playing a key role in healthcare programmes in a growing number of countries around the world, and notably in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific – where they can be used to deliver everything from simple SMS reminders for vaccinations or anti-retroviral treatments, to grassroots information gathering on demographics and diseases, to mobile information repositories for personal health records.

With smartphones becoming ever more widespread, new apps are now being developed by the thousand to help deliver healthcare to those who cannot easily be reached by medical specialists.

In the area of mobile health, for example, medical practitioners can now have patients’ ECGs sent straight to their smartphones or tablets. Patients with diabetes can download an app to manage diabetes online in real-time. And the ‘Epocrates’ app provides information on thousands of prescription medications and hundreds of over-the-counter drugs, as well as other capabilities, such as medical calculators.

There are also amazing apps designed especially for the developing world, and I was impressed to see one which can be used to diagnose malaria on the spot.

The app processes a picture taken by the phone of a blood sample; detects malaria parasites; quantifies how much malaria is in the sample; and even points out the parasites in the photo. Once the data stored in the phone is uploaded, it can be used to spot and monitor disease trends.

More advanced applications, such as 3D computer tomography, will soon allow for non-invasive internal examinations and diagnosis, while advanced data mining techniques will allow rare and unusual medical conditions to be more quickly and effectively diagnosed and treated.

Distinguished colleagues,

Concerning education, ICTs themselves are already acting as one of the main platforms for disseminating knowledge, and this marks perhaps the biggest shift in education since the founding of the first great ancient higher-learning institutions, which essentially depended on the model of ‘lecturer’ and ‘lectured-to’.

What we can expect to see, over the coming years, is an explosion of excellence in home-grown educational establishments right across the developing world, which will cater person-to-person for those who live close to schools and universities, and online for those who don’t.

Some of the biggest universities in the world today specialize in distance learning, and many of them are in developing countries. They include the Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi, India, with 3.5 million students and the Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad, Pakistan, with 1.8 million students.

Today, seventeen of the top twenty universities in the world, ranked by the number of enrolled students, are in developing countries – including Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, Thailand and Turkey – and each establishment has more than 300,000 students enrolled.

This could never have happened without ICTs and broadband, which have brought two crucial new forces to play: the death of distance, and the democratization of information and knowledge.

This is the true beauty of the Internet – it finally makes the world’s riches accessible to all.

Through various projects around the world, including ITU’s Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, computers and the Internet are being brought for the first time to people both of school age and within the community as a whole.

Children who are introduced at a young age to the vast realm of knowledge that the Internet offers will expect to stay connected as they grow.

And better educated adults not only have more manageable-sized families, but their children have significantly improved survival rates, and better chances of an education, basic health care and stable, better-paid employment.

Even simple devices like an ordinary mobile phone can have a profoundly transformational effect.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The innovative use of ICTs will also play a crucial role in ensuring the world’s seven billion people have affordable and equitable access to adequate food supplies, at every step of the process: from delivering the right information to farmers; to helping them improve yields and prices; to improving supply chain efficiencies; to ensuring that consumers understand nutritional needs, both for themselves and for their children.

Today 40-50% of all food ready for harvest in the United States never gets eaten, and in many developing countries, post-harvest losses of food grains can reach as high as 50%. With broadband we can do much more to reduce this wastage.

Similar principles apply to smart water management and distribution, and here too, ICTs will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable. This applies to remote sensing, weather forecast and soil moisture level measurements, etc.

ICTs will play a critical role in helping create a more sustainable world in the 21st century.

Through smart grids, environmental sensors, intelligent transport systems, dematerialization and digitalization of goods and services, and new ways of improving energy efficiency, we can help drive the transition to a low carbon economy, while better adapting to the effects of climate change.

Distinguished colleagues,

There are those who argue that we do not need high-end technology at all to solve the world’s most pressing issues – such as hunger and poverty – and that these can be addressed by having enough people willing to help, and through the use of simple technology, such as 2G mobile phones.

But without the broadband infrastructure humming away in the background, and without the power of large servers and big data storage capabilities, we can achieve very little.

SMS messages to remote and rural patients only work if there is a proper broadband network – and powerful computers – running in the background.

The same is true for enabling applications such as mobile banking, which is proving so successful in many parts of the developing world.

With political will, a strong social conscience, and a profound desire to fulfil a humanist mandate, we are fully capable of making the world a better place for all – and I am absolutely confident that together, by leveraging the power of broadband, we shall do so.

In 2010, ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development – to encourage governments to implement national broadband plans and to increase access to broadband applications and services.

The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation. We have over 50 Broadband Commissioners – all top-level leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies.

And I would invite you all to play an active part here at QITCOM on Wednesday in the session on ‘Broadband, a Platform for Development’, which is being moderated by Paul Budde, special advisor to the Broadband Commission, and which will feature broadband experts from a number of different organizations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have a unique opportunity in front of us: the opportunity to successfully replicate the mobile miracle of the past decade for broadband in the coming decade.

Let’s work together to build a world where individuals rich and poor can be connected to the global knowledge society.

A world where what matters is human ingenuity, not simply where you were born, or how wealthy your parents were.

A broadband world – that offers sustainable social and economic development for all.

Thank you.