18 June 2002
Digital Divide Still Yawns, Secretary-General Tells Assembly Session on Information and Communication Technologies for Development
NEW YORK, 17 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening of the General Assembly plenary meeting on information and communication technologies for development, 17 June:
Let me begin by congratulating you on your very timely initiative in holding this important meeting. I would also like to thank His Excellency the President of Senegal, whose country is in charge of information and communication technologies initiatives in the New Partnership for Africa's Development, for coming to New York for it.
Votre présence ici, Monsieur le Président, montre votre détermination et celle de l'Afrique à tirer parti des multiples possibilités qu'offre la révolution numérique pour le développement du continent.
Indeed, Ladies and Gentlemen, over the last few years, a wide consensus has emerged on the potential of information and communications technologies (ICT) to promote economic growth, combat poverty, and facilitate the integration of developing countries into the global economy.
Seizing the opportunities of the digital revolution is one of the most pressing challenges we face.
A great deal of work has already been done. The high-level panel of experts that the General Assembly asked me to convene three years ago has produced solid proposals and recommendations, some of which have already been implemented. The United Nations ICT Task Force, which I established last year at the request of the Economic and Social Council, is becoming a key forum for discussions on policy and particularly on how ICT can help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It is also becoming a platform for forging partnerships among different stakeholders, and it is building bridges to other similar initiatives, especially, as we heard from the President of the General Assembly, the Digital Opportunity Task Force created by the G-8 in July 2000. The Task Force itself embodies an open, inclusive approach by bringing together government officials, non-governmental organizations, experts and the private sector.
Yet, despite commendable efforts and various initiatives, we are still very far from ensuring that the benefits of ICT are available to all. The digital divide still yawns as widely as ever, with billions of people still unconnected to a global society which, on its side, is more and more "wired".
Why should this be so? Allow me to make two observations, which I hope will help this meeting reflect on new and more effective policy approaches.
First, our efforts must be based on the real needs of those we are seeking to help. They must be fully and genuinely involved. This has proved to be more easily said than done. In particular, we must find better ways to ensure the participation of developing countries at all stages.
Second, our efforts must be sustained over the long term. In recent years, we have witnessed a number of very promising initiatives that, regrettably, did not live up to expectations. The reasons were diverse, but one of the principal causes was insufficient long-term commitment on the part of initiators and sponsors. There is a clear lesson here for our Task Force, and for other initiatives: to be effective over time, they need to be nurtured by stakeholders, supported by continued involvement and, last but not least, provided with adequate resources over the long term.
There is a real need for the many initiatives to come together, united by a common purpose and common determination. I trust that this meeting will advance us along this route. Everyone -- governments, civil society, private sector -- has a vital stake in fostering digital opportunity and putting ICT at the service of development. I wish you a fruitful meeting and look forward to the results of your debate.
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