Last Friday, 24 April, marked the International Day of Multilateralism, an opportunity for the United Nations Office at Geneva in collaboration with the Graduate Institute, the University of Geneva, and Foraus to bring together students with different Heads of UN agencies, including ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, for a virtual conversation on “Multilateralism in the time of COVID-19”.
In the face of this unprecedented crisis, both digital technologies and multilateralism are playing a crucial role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Never in our history has there been a moment like this where we recognize the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) services to society,” said Mr. Zhao.
Working alongside its global and diverse membership, including governments, private companies, universities, and international and regional organizations, ITU has called on the ICT community and others to rise to the challenge and strengthen the multilateral digital response to COVID-19.
“Never in our history has there been a moment like this where we recognize the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) services to society.” — Mr. Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General
In response to the surge in digital traffic experienced by networks as many aspects of our daily lives have moved online, ITU quickly launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID), where policy makers, regulators, and industry players can share what they are doing to ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecoms services are available to all, to the maximum extent possible.
Sending vital health messaging to help protect people from COVID-19 has proven essential. ITU and the World Health Organization (WHO), with support from UNICEF, are working with telecommunication companies to text people directly on their mobile phones, reaching billions of people that are not able to connect to the Internet for information.
As Mr. Fabrizio Hochschild, UN Under-Secretary-General Special Adviser, said during the event: “I think the transformation towards more inclusive or multi-stakeholder multilateralism is a very positive one. And, indeed, it’s no coincidence that the institution led so ably by Mr. Zhao, ITU, includes representatives from industry and includes consultation with civil society. And in the digital era, I think that’s more necessary than ever.”
ITU is committed to continuing to leverage digital solutions to contain the spread of COVID-19 and make the world’s people safer, stronger, and more connected. The multi-stakeholder approach has been part of ITU’s structure from day one, and ITU continues to bring key stakeholders together to bridge the digital divide, and build trust and confidence in the use of digital technologies for the benefit of all − not just during this crisis, but for the longer term, said Mr. Zhao.