unctad.org | WSIS Forum 2009
Statement by Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
WSIS Forum 2009
Geneva
18 May 2009

Mr. Secretary-General,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a pleasure for me to attend this opening ceremony of the WSIS Forum 2009. The Forum offers a unique opportunity for all of us to revisit what world leaders agreed upon in the Geneva Plan of Action and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society a few years ago. There is a continuous need to explore new ways to translate the many opportunities enabled by information and communication technologies into faster progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Over the past few decades, ICTs have proven to be a tremendous accelerator of economic and social progress. They have opened a previously unimaginable array of possibilities in both developed and developing countries. From global car makers in Asia to small farmers in Africa, ICTs have improved access to knowledge and market information, created new business opportunities, and reduced the cost of doing business. Economic as well as social gains have been quite considerable.

The annual multi-stakeholder gatherings in Geneva as a follow-up to WSIS serve a very important function. This Forum, as well as next week´s session of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, will allow us to monitor progress in implementing the various commitments made at the Summit. They will also allow for revisions of how the international community can contribute more effectively to leveraging ICTs for development. This latter point is especially important, as the world of ICTs is always in a state of flux.

The mobile revolution is a case in point. In 2003, few if any could have predicted the exponential increase of mobile telephony that we have witnessed in recent years. WSIS focused primarily on the Internet, on the possibilities of the personal computer, and on community access through village access points and telecentres. Today, individual access to mobile phones may be superseding community access. With more than 4 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, we may already have reached one of the WSIS targets - that more than half of the world´s population should have ready access to ICTs - seven years ahead of schedule!

Despite many positive trends in narrowing the digital divide, much more needs to be done to create an information society for all. Bridging the gap requires more than rolling out infrastructure. Major gaps remain within economies and societies. The next steps towards an all-inclusive information society need to address universal ICT access, in both rural and urban areas, among men and women and across generations, and the availability of content in local languages. This will considerably increase the potential contribution of ICTs towards achieving the MDGs.

In fact, there is no room for complacency. We must avoid letting the progress achieved to date become a reason for future inaction. In the programmes of development partners, support to the ICT area has often been mainstreamed into broader areas of development policy. There are clear risks in this trend. One is that when every programme is expected to take ICTs into account, no one takes responsibility. When ICTs become "mainstreamed", they may in practice become "forgotten". However, some countries are bucking this trend, and continue to acknowledge the development potential of ICTs. The Government of Finland, for example, has given ICTs adequate prominence by placing them at the core of the country´s Aid for Trade strategy.

In the area of ICTs, trade and development, there are several pressing needs to address. Let me just mention a few:

  • First, many developing countries will need to create awareness of ICTs among their citizens and develop national ICT strategies to reap full benefits. These strategies should be integrated into the overall development strategies as well as adequately reflected in poverty reduction strategies.
  • Second, many developing countries need to adopt relevant and appropriate legal frameworks to unleash the full potential of the Internet. For example, unless businesses and individuals trust online security, it is difficult for e-commerce and e-government to take off.
  • Third, we need to advance our understanding of the promise of mobile solutions in such areas as banking, education, health and government.
  • Fourth, we need better measurement of how the use of ICTs is evolving among households, businesses, and educational institutions. In this area, the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development should be commended for having developed an internationally agreed core list of ICT indicators. The challenge now is to help developing countries collect and disseminate the required information. Without proper data in this area, policymakers will be at a loss when formulating new or revising existing policies.
  • And, fifth, we need to devote more attention to the interface between ICTs and poverty alleviation. Indeed, if the impact of ICTs on poverty reduction cannot be properly measured, ICTs will not be taken sufficiently into account by bilateral and multilateral development agencies.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Despite significant progress in improving access to ICTs in developing countries, a long unfinished agenda remains. Information and communication technologies require the attention of all relevant stakeholders. I encourage all participants to use the WSIS Forum 2009 to identify innovative ways for international organizations, national governments, development partners, the private sector as well as civil society to promote even greater economic and social development gains from ICTs. It is our common responsibility!

In concluding, I wish to take this opportunity to invite you to attend the 12th session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, which will take place next week under UNCTAD auspices at the Palais des Nations. The outcome of this Forum will be presented to the Commission, and I am delighted that my dear friend Hamadoun Touré will join me at the opening ceremony of this Commission as well.

Thank you very much for your attention.



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