*The following article is adapted from my remarks yesterday during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, at a webinar side event co-organized by ITU, GeSI & the United Nations Office for South South Cooperation (UNOSSC).
The COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the power and promise of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as never before.
Never has there been so much reliance, appreciation and emphasis placed on the important role and capacity of ICTs.
During lockdown, ICTs have given billions of people around the world the ability to continue their work, studies, care of others and remain connected to loved ones.
We must give credit to the network operators and platform providers that have been able to respond successfully to the huge increase in demand over the past few months. It has been an incredible demonstration of the resilience of this digital technology.
3.6 billion people still not using the Internet
But of course not all have been able to benefit. Let’s remember that 3.6 billion people around the world are still not connected to the Internet, mostly those living in rural areas and remote communities, which is why our collaboration with UNOSSC is very welcome.
However, I believe that the increased awareness of the importance of being connected brought about by the COVID-19 crisis will hopefully make it sooner rather than later that everyone, everywhere is connected.
It is now clear that leveraging ICTs to connect everyone everywhere, will be essential to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the fundamental importance of ICTs to economies and societies everywhere – from fighting the spread of the virus through continued access to healthcare, teleworking, remote-schooling and access to essential goods and services, and keeping family and friends connected.
Working together is critical
With COVID-19 nobody will be safe until everyone is safe. International collaboration, cooperation and coordination between all stakeholders public and private is essential to fight this virus. And such collaboration will also be necessary to deliver the sustainable development agenda.
Only when we all work together, bringing our own specific competencies to the table and avoiding duplication of effort and pooling our resources for the common good will we succeed.
It is at times like these that we need to ensure that the digital infrastructure, services, and applications that have proved fundamental in this crisis are beneficial to all, so that we leave no one behind as we recover from the pandemic.
ITU’s diverse and growing membership
ITU is fortunate to have a diverse membership of over 900 sector members, mostly private sector companies in the telecommunications and Internet sectors, along with our 193 Member States.
We are committed to working with our membership and many other organisations to leverage ICTs to help defeat COVID-19 and accelerate progress in the attainment of the sustainable development goals.
As an optimist, let me conclude by saying I believe some good will come from this COVID-19 experience. It has brought home to everyone the tremendous benefits of digital technologies to transform our economies and our lives for the better and create a more sustainable world.
We don’t have to commute to our office every day, we don’t have to travel the world for a business meeting. We can be efficient and effective working from home, and at the same time benefit from a better work life balance.
Digital technologies with purpose are absolutely vital to meet our ambitious development targets. Collaboration and cooperation are key. No single entity can do it alone.
All stakeholders: government, civil society, academia, the UN system and the ICT community need to rise to the challenge and strengthen the collective digital response to these unprecedented challenges, so as to promote the sustainable development of society, environment and economies.