20 October 2005
Information, Communication Technologies Marginalize Poor Countries Instead of Integrating Them into World Economy, Group of 77 Tells Fourth Committee
Item on Programme Planning also Taken up; Four Draft Resolutions Introduced
NEW YORK, 19 October (UN Headquarters) -- Despite their huge potential for economic growth and poverty reduction, many developing countries lacked information and communication technologies (ICT), which served to marginalize rather than integrate them into the world economy, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) heard today, as it began its general discussions of information and communication technologies for development, and programme planning.
Jamaica's representative, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said ICT and policies governing their use had begun to widen the gap between those with access to them and those without. The international community should create conditions to support the conclusions reached in Geneva during the first phase of the 2003 World Summit on the Information Society -- ICT could increase productivity, generate economic growth, create jobs and generally improve quality of life. The Summit's second phase, to be held in Tunis in December 2005, would provide an ideal opportunity for the global community to move forward in carrying out that responsibility.
He said that the Group of 77 and China fully supported the Summit's objectives, especially with respect to universal access to information and knowledge for all, democratic Internet governance and respect for cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content. The Group also attached special importance to the launching of the Digital Solidarity Fund, which should play a positive role in expanding developing-country access to ICT.
Tunisia's delegate noted that the final document of the Geneva Summit had confirmed the international community's interest in reducing the digital divide by calling for initiatives to transfer technology and reduce disparities in access to information technologies. Hopefully, those efforts would meet the expectations of all countries and contribute to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
Malawi's representative underscored Africa's ICT needs, quoting studies that demonstrated the continent's ability to reap significant benefits from those technologies. However, it still lagged behind, remaining excluded from the opportunities provided by emerging knowledge. Despite being home to about 12 per cent of the world's population, Africa had less than 1 per cent of the world's Internet content.
Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, drew attention to those groups of countries, stressing that their lack of resources, human capacity and technology jeopardized their potential to achieve sustainable development. Targets arising from the Brussels Programme of Action included raising, by the year 2010, computer literacy among students in universities and other institutions of higher learning by 50 per cent, and in junior high and high schools by 25 per cent; and increasing average telephone density to five main lines per 100 inhabitants, and Internet connections to 10 users per 100 inhabitants. Both the least developed countries and their development partners must make extra efforts to reach those goals.
Switzerland's representative emphasized the need for developing countries to shift their attention away from bridging the digital divide to pro-poor policies and practices in order to maximize the contribution of ICT towards attaining the Millennium Goals. An enabling environment was crucial, as was a clear, legal framework that should include respect for the freedom of expression, diversity and the free flow of information. Such an environment should also include supporting infrastructure, such as electricity, Internet connectivity, and a reasonable level of basic education.
As the Committee took up programme planning, it focused on links between Headquarters and field activities, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). Addressing those issues, Jamaica's delegate, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, commented that the report of the Committee on Programme and Coordination placed too little emphasis on the need to for the coordination of development programmes between United Nations bodies and national governments.
In other business, Jamaica's delegate, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, introduced a draft resolution relating to the International Conference on Financing for Development. The representatives of Kazakhstan, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia also introduced drafts relating to special economic assistance for their respective countries.
Also speaking today were the delegates of the Russian Federation, India, Indonesia, Suriname, Jordan and Belarus.
An official from the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executive Board for Coordination presented that body's report on ICT for development.
The Second Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 21 October, to hear a joint briefing with the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) on the World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met today to consider information and communication technologies for development, as well as programme planning.
Before the Committee was a report of the Committee for Programme and Coordination (document A/60/16), containing recommendations on links between Headquarters and field activities (C.1), and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (C.2). On links between Headquarters and field activities, the Committee recommends that the Secretary-General enhance inter-agency coordination to fight hunger in the framework of the Millennium Declaration. It also emphasizes that United Nations programmes should be harmonized with national-Government needs and priorities in ultimately strengthening links between Headquarters and field activities.
The Committee further recommends that regional commissions and country offices set up mechanisms to exchange information regularly and share knowledge, particularly about poverty-eradication activities. It also urges regional commissions to strengthen their websites as platforms for exchanging regional best practices and lessons learned, and encourages the Regional Commissions New York Office to continue disseminating and sharing interregional best practices and experiences, including through the use of a joint website.
Regarding Human Settlements, the Committee recommends that the Financial Rules and Regulations of the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation be issued and adopted no later than the end of 2005. In addition, it urges United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) to continue giving support and technical assistance to Member States and stresses the importance of ensuring that human settlements continue to be a priority on the global development agenda. It also urges UN-HABITAT to continue supporting the work of regional bodies, especially for the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development.
The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General's report on information and communication technologies for development: progress in the implementation of General Assembly resolution 57/295 (document A/60/323), which updates efforts by the ICT Network, a system-wide working group of information and communication technologies (ICT) managers and directors, to help the United Nations maximize the value of its investments in ICT. Guided by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the Network focuses on ICT services sourcing strategy; ICT development network; common applications solutions; knowledge-sharing; enterprise resource planning systems; ICT governance and best practices; business case development and costing; and ICT training. The critical area of ICT knowledge-sharing and knowledge management at the United Nations remains uncoordinated, which has prompted the ICT Network to create a system-wide strategy to guide and link individual efforts.
According to the report, a declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action were adopted in Geneva, during the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, in 2003, which recognized the vital importance of ICT and the need for United Nations bodies to make the fullest use of it in achieving their mandates. The second phase of the World Summit, to be held in Tunis in December 2005, will focus on financing mechanisms for ICT, for which the Secretary-General has been requested to provide input.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
DIEDRE MILLS (Jamaica), on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, introduced a draft resolution on the follow-up to and implementation of the outcome of the International Conference on Financing for Development (document A/C.2/60/L.6), which encourages Member States to build on what was agreed in the World Summit outcome document regarding financing for development, with particular attention to finding agreement on the appropriate modalities for follow-up to the Monterrey Consensus.
YERZHAN KH. KAZYKHANOV (Kazakhstan) introduced a draft resolution on international cooperation and coordination for the human and ecological rehabilitation and economic development of the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan (document A/C.2/60/L.4), which aims at enhancing world public awareness of the problems and needs of the Semipalatinsk region and at the human and ecological rehabilitation as well as economic development of that region. The text also recognizes the challenges facing Kazakhstan in the rehabilitation of Semipalatinsk, particularly, in the context of that country's achievement of its development goals.
GUELLEH IDRISS OMAR (Djibouti) introduced a draft resolution on economic assistance for the reconstruction and development of Djibouti (document A/C.2/60/L.5), saying that with regard to the serious food and water shortages suffered by its people, Governments, international financial institutions and non-governmental organizations must respond adequately to Djibouti's financial and material needs, in line with its poverty-reduction strategy.
AZANAW TADESSE ABREHA ( Ethiopia) introduced a draft resolution on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for Ethiopia (document A/C.2/60/L.7), which emphasizes the need to address the root causes of that country's food security problem. Ethiopian farmers need $500 million a year for five years if the country is to achieve food security within the time stipulated in its Millenium Development Goals.
MOHAMED ABDI ( Somalia) introduced a draft resolution on assistance for humanitarian relief and the economic and social rehabilitation of Somalia (document A/C.2/60/L.8), saying that the lack of peace, drought, and unusually cold temperatures underline the urgent need for relief assistance in that country. After five years of drought, 50 to 60 per cent of livestock in the country's north-eastern part has been destroyed. The text also draws attention to toxic-waste dumping on Somalia's north-eastern shores, and to the need for capacity-building programmes to help the country deal with environmental and health hazards arising from it.
The Committee then turned to its discussion on programme planning and information and communication technologies for development.
Discussion on Programme Planning
Mrs. MILLS (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, commented that C.1 of the report of the Committee on Programme and Coordination did not place enough emphasis on the need for coordination between United Nations bodies and national Governments. It was important to harmonize United Nations programmes with national Governments and their efforts to develop.
The Committee then took up its discussion of information and communication technologies for development.
ALI HACHANI ( Tunisia) said the international community's interest in the digital divide had brought about a dual perception of the problem. On the one hand, the divide suggested that information technologies had failed to benefit all nations, despite its huge potential for economic growth and poverty reduction. In effect, those technologies had become more a source of marginalization that integration. On the other hand, information technologies could, in effect, be used productively to help promote human development, partnerships and investment.
He noted that the final document of the first phase of the World Summit for the Information Society had confirmed the international community's interest in reducing the digital divide by calling for initiatives to transfer technology and reduce disparities in access to information technologies. Hopefully, those efforts would meet the expectations of all countries and contribute to the attainment of the Millennium Goals.
Tunisia was currently preparing for the second phase of the Summit and welcomed the commitment of the 2005 World Summit to guarantee its success.
STAFFORD O. NEIL (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that information and communication technologies, as well as policies governing their access and use, had begun to widen the gap between those who had access to communication technologies and those who did not. All improvements in information technology infrastructure and access should enhance programme delivery and help United Nations bodies to operate more coherently and effectively. The overall objective was to strengthen the Organization's support for the development agenda that had emerged from the September World Summit, and to use ICT as an instrument in doing so. United Nations bodies should work together through the Chief Executive Board to help transform the Organization into a knowledge-based system that could serve the cause of development and poverty eradication with much greater effectiveness and impact.
He said that the Declaration of Principles agreed at the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society had asserted that technologies could be powerful in increasing productivity, generating economic growth, job creation and improving the quality of life for all. The international community should help create the conditions needed to achieve those aims. The second phase of the Summit provided an ideal opportunity for the global community to move forward in carrying out that responsibility. The Group of 77 and China fully supported the objectives of the Summit, especially that of universal access to information and knowledge for all, democratic Internet governance and respect for cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content. It attached special importance to the launching of the Digital Solidarity Fund, which should play a positive role in expanding access to ICT by developing countries.
Noting that critical issues were still outstanding in negotiations for the Tunis Summit, he expressed the hope that progress would be made in reaching equitable arrangements regarding Internet governance and expansion of the role of developing countries. The Group of 77 strongly urged development partners to exhibit the will and flexibility to ensure that the Summit created conditions for developing countries to benefit from the potential of ICT. It was imperative that greater efforts be made to bridge the digital divide. A supportive United Nations and a well-designed and financed plan of action, as well as appropriate policies developed through the Summit, would help move the global community in that direction.
KENNETH HERMAN, United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) Secretariat, introduced the report on information and communication technologies for development (document A/60/323), saying that the General Assembly resolution on ICT sought to leverage the Organization's technological sophistication to enhance collaborative efforts across the United Nations family, as well as to improve its efficiency and bridge the digital divide among its agencies. While all agencies were well versed in the use of ICT, for example to communicate with staff scattered around the world or to keep track of data, they needed to go beyond the effective use of that technology and build a common platform for databases so that knowledge could be exchanged across agencies. Indeed, the resolution stressed the need for seamless collaborative environment for all United Nations bodies.
Towards that end, he said, the ICT Network, a group assigned by the CEB to work on the issue, had begun examining the possibility of common applications, such as a shared payroll system and a system-wide strategy for knowledge-sharing. The initiatives were still in its early stages and faced several obstacles, including dwindling budgets and reduced resources devoted to ICT, as well as the difficulty of finding commonalities in the diverse organizations of the United Nations system. For example, the World Food Programme (WFP), whose main objective was food delivery, differed substantially from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which dealt with labour issues.
In addition, many organizations invested heavily in their own operational systems, such as financial and human resources, and were reluctant to dismantle costly systems for the sake of sharing, he said. Furthermore, changing systems required additional costs with only vague promises of future savings. There was no facility to help them deal with the financial and other burdens that would accompany such changes. Aligning the different agencies and processes across the United Nations system posed not a technical challenge, but an operational one, and the ICT Network had begun to lead a dialogue on the issue, with an eye towards convincing individual agencies to adjust their operational policies to be more integrative. For that to happen, the leadership of various organizations within the system must embrace the move from opportunity to reality.
ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, stressed that those groups of countries needed particular support to enter the global world of ICT. Their lack of resources, human capacity and technology jeopardized their potential for sustainable development, underscoring their need for international support in enhancing their technological capacity.
He noted that targets arising from the Brussels Programme of Action included increasing, by the year 2010, computer literacy among students in higher-learning institutions and universities by 50 per cent, and in junior high and high schools by 25 per cent by 2015; and increasing average telephone density to five main lines per 100 inhabitants, and Internet connections to 10 users per 100 inhabitants. From 1990 to 2002, the number of telephone lines and cellular subscribers per 100 people in least developed countries had risen from 0.27 to 2.21, the number of personal computers from 0.12 to 0.56 and Internet users from 0.18 to 0.4 between 2000 and 2002. Those figures suggested progress, but extra efforts, by both least developed countries and their development partners, were needed to reach agreed targets.
Information and communication technologies were also important to landlocked developing countries in reducing bureaucratic delays and paperwork in order to ensure the speedy movement of goods in transit, he said. For small island States, deliberate and prudent use of information technology would go a long way towards reducing the isolation of remote islands, allowing them to deal more effectively with a host of constraints, especially trade, development, health, education, security and technology transfer.
OLEG A. SHAMANOV ( Russian Federation) said that with the onset of globalization, ICT had begun playing an important role in the economic development process and was a factor in bringing stability to the world. Efforts to arrive at a system-wide format to resolve ICT-related issues with respect to development were commendable and would contribute to the formation of an integrated global society.
He said ICT was a new sphere of United Nations interaction, and that complex issues within that sphere would need resolving. A suggested approach was to help build the appropriate socio-economic conditions to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries in the use of ICT. Moreover, problems stemming from the information revolution, such as the vulnerability of a networked society to cyberterrorism, should be given due attention. Also, the United Nations ICT Task Force should serve as a catalyst for achieving equitable access and full utilization of ICT by the international community. The Russian Federation valued the work of the Task Force in providing both conceptual and practical guidance.
JANARDHANA POOJARY ( India), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the ICT revolution marked a significant shift in the relative importance of different factors of production in the development process. While its potential seemed to have been narrowly focused on the information technology sector, great potential lay in its extension and application to the development of other sectors, such as education, health care, markets, financial services, vocational skills, administrative services. India's Green Revolution was an example of how the input of greater knowledge in the form of improved production technologies could increase the productivity of land resources.
He said that the role of ICT institutions that provided the skills demanded by the market was pivotal, and that such skills attracted private investment, including foreign direct investment, which, in turn, contributed to economic growth and poverty reduction. Given the pace of change in the ICT field, the digital divide widened daily. To help bridge that divide, India had started work on a connectivity mission in Africa, where it would support efforts in tele-education, telemedicine, e-commerce, e-governance, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological services. India had also developed guidelines for information security systems in the banking and financial sector.
JEAN-ROBERT MORET ( Switzerland) said that Governments, donors and other decision makers should shift their attention from bridging the digital divide to pro-poor policies and practices to maximize the contribution of ICT to the attainment of the Millennium Goals. An enabling environment was crucial, and a clear, enforced legal framework should include respect for freedom of expression, diversity and the free flow of information. A conducive environment included supporting infrastructure, such as electricity, Internet connectivity, and a reasonable level of basic education. The introduction and acceleration of competition in information and communication infrastructure was key to lowering prices and facilitating access of communication technologies by people living in poverty.
Technological progress dramatically reduced costs and lowered access barriers, he said. When making technology choices, information about the latest technological development was useful in choosing simple, context-related solutions. Financial, ecological and social sustainability was the triple-bottom line for successful information and communication technology-supported projects. Upscaling to reach the Millennium Goals required additional investment, and maximum mobilization of private investment, while vital, depended on an enabling regulatory framework, existing infrastructure and development potential. The microfinance movement demonstrated that banking for people in poverty was feasible, and that public-private partnerships also had an important role to play.
PRAYONO ATIYANTO (Indonesia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that far too often developing countries were provided with outdated technology that prevented them from being competitive in the global economy, a practice that should cease. Only by working together to bridge the digital divide could the international community attain the full gains offered by globalization. Towards that end, there must be widespread promotion of ICT education and training in developing countries, bolstered by international cooperation and the use of joint resources.
He said cooperation at the global level should be complemented by action at the regional level. In that context, the Fifth Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministerial Meeting, held in Viet Nam last month, had reaffirmed the region's commitment to accelerating the development of online services and applications, and to boosting electronic transactions amongst citizens, businesses, industries and Governments in the region. Indonesia looked forward to discussing, at the World Summit on the Information Society, ways to reach equitable arrangements for internet governance and finding a greater role for developing countries in that respect.
EWALD WENSLEY LIMON ( Suriname), stressing the importance of e-commerce, said it contributed to economic growth, allowing nations to improve trade efficiency and integrate into the global economy. It also allowed businesses and entrepreneurs to be more competitive, and offered opportunities to modernize public administration. E-governance was also beneficial, especially applications of business management for public administration purposes, including the use of ICT for more effective information management and improved relations among consumers, partners and suppliers. That type of public administration reform led to more effective and informed decision-making, and enhanced cooperation between civil society and Governments.
He said that his country believed in bridging the digital divide, putting information and communication technologies at the service of development and at the disposal of the individual. Suriname had established telecommunication centres in the country's interior to increase opportunities for local people, and was establishing a national ICT institute. It would also be carrying out a distance-learning project. Effective participation in the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society was vital, since an information society was pivotal in achieving sustained global development.
BROWN BESWICK CHIMPHAMBA ( Malawi), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that, in the present era, ICT matters were central to the question of sustainable development. Malawi hoped the outcome of the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society would help African countries in particular to benefit from the fruits of the digital revolution. Studies had shown that Africa had the potential to reap significant benefits but still lagged behind in that area, with the majority of African people, especially the rural poor, remaining excluded from the opportunities provided by emerging knowledge. Despite being home to about 12 per cent of the world's population, the continent had less than 1 per cent of the world's Internet content.
He said his country was heartened by the outcome of the 2000 Group of Eight summit, held in Japan, where leaders from the industrialized nations had pledged to assist developing nations with ICT. Malawi appealed for their continued assistance and he noted with gratitude United Nations efforts to reduce the impact of one of the worst droughts that the country had ever experienced during the last crop season. The important role of ICT had been immeasurable in that particular instance.
ADI KHAIR ( Jordan) expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the Swiss Government for hosting the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003. The Summit had led to the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, which had expressed the importance of information and communication technologies, and their full utilization in the United Nations system. The next phase of the Summit was equally important in building on the outcomes of the first, especially in financing and creating access to various technologies. Hopefully, the Summit should satisfy all expectations, resulting in agreements on actions needed to promote ICT in all nations.
ULADZIMIR A. GERUS ( Belarus) commended the progress achieved by Member States in coordinating and developing international cooperation and the expansion of ICT. Such an undertaking should involve all interested parties, including Governments, non-governmental organizations as well as members of civil society and the private sector. United Nations Members States, Economic and Social Council and other operative bodies within the organization were called upon to contribute to the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society.
The effective use of ICT as a strategic instrument could help bring developing countries more quickly towards their development goals, he said, adding that the attainment of development goals was only possible if the use of technology was highlighted in various countries' development programmes. There were many differences among countries in their use of ICT, and the international community's primary task should be to bridge the divide. Efforts in that regard should involve not just Governments, but also development banks and programmes funded by private donors. Belarus had created a high technology park with its own legal regime, exempted from payments, tax fees, and given other preferential treatments to enhance technological development and enable the country to export ICT programmes abroad.
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