Opening the first-ever global summit on information, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today appealed to world leaders to share the benefits of powerful information and communications technologies (ICT) with the poorest countries and to shape their use to fight worldwide problems such as illiteracy and poverty.
“From trade to telemedicine, from education to environmental protection, we have in our hands, on our desktops and in the skies above, the ability to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people,” Mr. Annan told the Heads of State and government in the audience of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva.
But an open, inclusive information society that benefits all people will not emerge without sustained commitment and investment, he added. “We look to you, the leaders assembled here, to produce those acts of political will.”
Over the next three days, nearly 14,000 representatives from government, science, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry and media will work to forge a global commitment on ways to harness the power of ICTs towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of measurable and time-bound actions adopted by world leaders in 2000 to combat such global ills as poverty and hunger, inequality in education and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, all by 2015.
Among the goals included in the Summit's Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action is for half the world's people to be within reach of ICTs by 2015, and for more multilingual content and programming. The roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, including government and industry, are outlined in the plan, which will be reviewed at a second phase of the Summit in November 2005 in Tunisia.
“We have all of this potential. The challenge before this Summit is what to do with it,” the Secretary-General said.
Speaking earlier Wednesday, Nitin Desai, Mr. Annan's Special Adviser for the conference, and Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, told a press briefing that the event was a “Summit of opportunities.”
It also was about democracy and development, Mr. Desai added, and contentious issues had been “thoroughly discussed and happily resolved.” He stressed that the emphasis was on the use of ICTs for development and the media were key actors in the process.
Mr. Tharoor noted that ICTs had the potential to improve the lives of people everywhere, but pointed out that the digital divide was actually several gaps - technological, content, gender and commercial - in one.
In his address, Mr. Annan also stressed that while information and communication technologies were “not a panacea or magic formula, they could improve the lives of everyone on this planet.”
“We are going through a historic transformation - everything is changing about the way we live, the way we learn, the way we work, the way we communicate and do business. We must do so not passively, but as makers of our own destiny. Technology has given birth to the information age. Now it is up to all of us to build an information society,” he said.