Magazine article UN Chronicle

Building Bridges, Virtually

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Building Bridges, Virtually

Article excerpt

Global communication began barely a hundred years ago when Rudyard Kipling was inspired by the laying of undersea telegraph lines to write in his poem, "The Deep-Sea Cables": "A new word runs between: whispering, 'let us be one!'"

Mired in the sloughs of the deep, the cables became a determining technological and economic engine of the time and revolutionized communications in as profound a way as the Internet is doing today. But oceans and continents were not the difficult bridge to cross; the world still laboured under economic, social and cultural barriers to communication. And to understanding, learning and tolerance.

The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)--the first global effort to share and shape the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs)--ended after three days of negotiations on 12 December 2003 in Geneva. Over 50 heads of State, Prime Ministers, Presidents and Vice-Presidents and more than 80 ministers and vice-ministers from some 175 countries came together at the Summit. They adopted the Declaration of Principles on the Information Society and the Plan of Action, emphasizing cooperation among Governments, private business and civil society to help bridge the digital divide. WSIS also began the process of looking at how to break down the economic, social and cultural barriers that, in fact, continue to exist today.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan alluded to the enormous work ahead by noting that while technology had given birth to the information age, it was up to everyone to forge an inclusive information society. "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", he said.

Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the Summit, as well as of the International Telecommunication Union, at the closing session cautioned that in the past such sea changes as the advent of the information society "have led to winners and losers. Some countries have prospered, while others have fallen behind. It could happen once again and, if we do not take any action now, existing gaps may be widened."

Counselling against the world making the same mistakes, Utsumi said that this phase should be seen as "only the start of a long and complex process". Some of the original objectives of WSIS had included making ICTs a global priority, bringing together public and private-sector players to forge an inclusive dialogue and beginning to bridge the digital divide between wealthy and poor countries. With respect to the first two, this Geneva phase of WSIS was an unambiguous success. And although much remains to be done on the digital divide, some steps were charted. Questions on infrastructure financing, for which many developing countries had been pressing, were left for further discussion and action as work progresses to the second phase, scheduled for Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005.

In all, some 11,000 Government, civil society, science and private sector representatives, working in front of television and web cam eras, assembled in Geneva to shape a global commitment on harnessing the power of telecommunications technologies, such as the Internet and cellular telephony, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 to combat poverty, hunger, inequality in education and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, all by 2015. Among the targets set is to connect all schools, villages, Governments and hospitals with ICTs by 2015 and bring half of the world's population within the reach of ICTs.

The WSIS Declaration entitled "Building the Information Society: a global challenge in the new Millennium", reflected the shared desire of Governments to build an information society where everyone could create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge. It would enable people and communities to promote sustainable development and improve their quality of life, premised on the Charter of the United Nations and on upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. …

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