Information and communication technology vital to development – UN Assembly chief

General Assembly President Sheika Haya

29 November 2006 – Information and communication technology (ICT) has a key role to play in helping the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of eight time-bound targets for reducing poverty and ameliorating other social and economic ills, the General Assembly President said today.

In a statement to a forum in New York on the theme of “Our Common Humanity in the Information Age: Principles and Values for Development,” Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa said ICT can “reach across borders, generations and populations” to both raise awareness and bring practical benefits, especially for the world’s most marginalized groups.

“For example, ICT has the potential to link poor rural farmers to international markets or local environmental activists to a global community of advocates,” she said, stressing that partnership between Member States and the private sector is essential if the MDGs are to be achieved by their target date of 2015.

“The UN must therefore continue to play a critical role in fostering global and local partnerships,” Sheikha Haya added.

In his remarks to the forum, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari said that in crisis situations ICT provided critical real-time information that was crucial for timely and appropriate decisions. Mr. Ahtisaari, who now serves as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Kosovo’s future status process, said managing crises showed the need for cooperation.

“Different actors of the crisis management community have recognized that the benefits of cooperation outweigh the costs”, he said, adding that all major actors should work together “coherently and effectively, complementing and supporting one another.”

British actor Julia Ormond, UN Goodwill Ambassador against human trafficking, called such trafficking “a new form of slavery,” warning that ICT had enabled human traffickers to sidestep traditional government controls but it was also providing the capacity to fight the problem.

“Slavery has not gone away,” she said. “We are often in denial of slavery – we are not able to see it”. There are some 17 million people enslaved in the world, as well as 2.45 million victims of human trafficking, many of them children exploited in prostitution in rich countries.

However the problem was not the international movement of human beings, but their “violent control and exploitation” by traffickers and mafias, Ms. Ormond said. On the positive side, major private industry players, such as Microsoft, had pledged to eradicate Internet paedophilia by 2008.

UN Millennium Project Director Jeffrey Sachs said extreme poverty did not stem from bad politics or poor quality of governance, but from “four major structural conditions of extreme poverty:” not having achieved food production breakthroughs, being saddled by the burden of disease, being in economic isolation and being affected by natural hazards.

Practical interventions through ICT could address all these burdens, Mr. Sachs said, adding that African farmers could triple their crops if they were made aware of the basics of agricultural productivity. Millions of lives could be saved by easily achievable health interventions. ICT provided the lowest-cost tool to end economic isolation and to address largely predictable natural hazards.

“Cell phones are probably the most useful ICT tool,” he added. “Just having one per village can make an amazing difference. And the realistic costs of putting everybody on-line are remarkably low.”

The forum, which was held at UN Headquarters, was organized by the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

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