Seizing the opportunities of the digital revolution is one of the most pressing challenges facing the international community, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today, as the United Nations General Assembly opened a two-day high-level meeting devoted to information and communication technologies (ICT) for development.
In his opening address, the Secretary-General pointed to a growing consensus on the potential of ICT to promote economic growth, combat poverty eradication, and facilitate the integration of developing countries into the global economy.
"Yet, despite commendable efforts and various initiatives, we are still very far from ensuring that the benefits of ICT are available to all," Mr. Annan said. "The digital divide still yaws as widely as ever, with billions of people still unconnected to a global society which, on its side, is more and more 'wired.'"
The Secretary-General said there was a real need for the many current initiatives around the world to come together, "united by a common purpose and common determination," and urged governments, civil society and the private sector to foster digital opportunities and to put ICT at the service of development.
The Assembly convened the meeting to address the digital divide in the context of globalization and development, and to promote coherence and synergies between regional and international information and communication technologies initiatives.
The event will also contribute to the preparation of the World Summit on the Information Society, which will be held in two phases in 2003 in Geneva and in 2005 in Tunis, and address the broad range of questions concerning the information society and seek a common vision and understanding of this societal transformation.
For his part, Assembly President Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea told the gathering that new advances in ICT were further enhancing the already immense potential for dramatically accelerating development through "leapfrogging" stages of technological development.
"However, we are faced by the sad reality that this immense potential of ICT is not currently being adequately harnessed," he stressed. "The digital divide threatens to further marginalize the economies and peoples of the developing countries as well as countries with economies in transition. Moreover, given the very dynamism of the ICT revolution, every day that passes without effective action further widens the divide, making the need for concerted effort by the international community a matter of utmost urgency."
Among the other speakers at the opening meeting were Ivan Šimonovic, President of the UN Economic and Social Council, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Yukio Utsumi, head of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the lead agency for organizing the World Summit.
Later on Monday, José María Figueres-Olsen, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for ICT and Chair of the UN ICT Task Force, told a press conference that the meeting also sought to further the bridge building between his Task Force and other efforts, particularly with the private sector.