Information summit pledges help for poor countries
Delegates from 176 countries who met for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia, in November pledged to drive the information revolution into poor countries. The meeting, attended by more than 17,000 people, endorsed two documents that largely reaffirmed promises made at the first WSIS summit in Geneva two years ago to increase financing and other assistance to ensure that poor countries benefit from advanced communications technologies.
“It is fitting that this stage of our journey ends here in Tunis, the capital of the country that launched the process,” said International Telecommunications Union Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi. Holding the summit in two phases, with one in an industrial country and the other in a developing one, he said, “helped ensure that the full range of issues of the information society were addressed, while highlighting the critical need to bridge the digital divide.”
A voluntary “Digital Solidarity Fund,” launched in 2005 at the urging of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, was officially recognized by the summit as a means to finance information technologies in Africa. But it remains underfunded, with only about €8 mn so far. The organizers are trying to attract more private sector financing.
The Tunis summit reached an agreement on broadening discussions about regulation of the Internet, an issue that has divided industrial and developing nations. The compromise agreement states that all governments should play an equal role and have equal responsibility for governance of the Internet, while ensuring its continuing stability, security and continuity.
Northern heads of state were notably absent from the summit. Of the 44 who went to Tunis, most were from Africa and only one was from a developed nation, Switzerland.
Sub-Saharan Africa remained at the heart of the global HIV/AIDs epidemic in 2005, accounting for two out of every three new infections, four out of every five fatalities and a staggering 90 per cent of all AIDS-related child deaths. Despite a significant jump in the number of Africans on live-saving anti-retroviral drugs during the year, and signs that the rate of new infections is slowing in a few countries (see page 3), said the head of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Dr. Peter Piot in December, “AIDS continues to outstrip Africa’s efforts to contain it and continues to pose an acute threat to future generations. Africa is still facing an unprecedented AIDS crisis.” The region is the world’s poorest and contains about 10 per cent of the world’s population.
Four research hubs have now been set up across Africa to promote the application of the biological sciences to improving African agriculture, health, environment, mining and industry. Establishment of the hubs — located at research institutes in South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Senegal — was promoted by the African Biosciences Initiative, an undertaking of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
The network for Southern Africa will operate out of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa. In collaboration with other research institutes in the region, it will focus on research in human health, animal health and production, plant biotechnologies and environmental rehabilitation. The International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, will work with researchers across East and Central Africa to improve crop varieties, vaccines and diagnostic tests. The Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute will lead work on agricultural research throughout the Economic Community of West African States. Egypt’s National Research Centre is collaborating with research institutes in Algeria, Chad, Libya and Tunisia.
The UN issued the largest annual appeal for humanitarian assistance in its history on 30 November. It seeks $4.7 bn in 2006 to assist 31 million people in 26 countries around the world, all but four of them in Africa. An additional $766 mn is still being sought for appeals issued in 2005 but left underfunded, bringing the total request to nearly $5.5 bn.
“The past year has demonstrated our tremendous capacity for giving,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted, citing the strong charitable response to the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake. He called the appeal “an opportunity, which must not be missed, to extend that generosity to people whose plight may not capture the world’s attention but whose suffering is no less tragic.”
The ongoing humanitarian and political crises in Sudan ($1.5 bn) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ($1.2 bn) account for more than half of the 2006 request. Funding requests from non-governmental organizations are included for the first time in this year’s Consolidated Appeal — so named because it combines requests from many different agencies. “Historically only one-tenth of the Consolidated Appeals have been funded in the first quarter of each year,” Mr. Annan observed. “Delayed giving costs more in lives and resources.”