Communications play vital role in development, UN-backed conference told

25 October 2006 – The vital role played by communication in development topped the agenda of a United Nations-backed conference that opened today, with a warning that rapid advance in technology risked widening the gap between those with access to cell phones and the Internet and the 1 billion of the world’s population without.

“By extension the danger is to further widen the divide between all those who eat three meals a day and the 854 million who count themselves lucky to get one,” UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf told some 500 delegates including policy-makers, academics and media professionals.

The three-day event – the First World Congress on Communication for Development (WCCD) – is jointly organized by FAO, the World Bank and The Communication Initiative partnership, and is hosted by the Government of Italy at FAO’s Rome headquarters.

It will examine the role of communication in speeding progress in the specific fields of poverty reduction, food security, health, governance and sustainable development, illustrate the wealth of innovative and creative communications work now taking place, and urge that a communications component be included in all new development projects.

Mr. Diouf said communication and sustainable development are closely bound. “They are different facets of the same endeavour ... reaching across and bringing people closer together,” he noted.

The rapid advance of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) was speeding economic growth across the world and creating a global marketplace, but the very pace at which the new frontiers are advancing risked widening the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not, he warned.

Together with the new frontier of ICTs, more traditional media such as radio, video, film, music and theatre were also important in spreading knowledge and promoting development, he said. Effective communications could change the lives of millions by “planting the seeds of knowledge, and hope, among the world’s poor,” he added.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and Nobel Economics Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz will be joining in the debates by videoconference.

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