Technology is playing a crucial role in fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic and in keeping us connected. And technology will be crucial to restarting society as we slowly return to ‘normal.’
The question now becomes, how can we continue the momentum and use the lessons learned in the crisis to leverage technology for good — especially for accelerating progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), held annually on 17 May, highlights the benefits that information and communication technology (ICT) can bring to societies and economies everywhere.
To mark WTISD 2020, a virtual event held on 18 May brought together global leaders to discuss this year’s theme, “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals”.
“We have entered a race against time. A race to find a treatment for COVID-19. A race to prepare for recovery. And a race to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of the decade. In each instance, ICTs will play a critical role,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao during his opening remarks.
For Tatiana Valovaya, Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the role of technology in achieving the SDGs is clear: after just three months of lockdown in which the world worked and connected to loved ones via digital means, the Himalayan mountain range could be seen from villages in India that lie 200 kilometers away, clear water ran through Venice’s canals, and cities around the world reported the cleanest air for decades.
“It’s important to see how we can change our activities to be more sustainable; with less travel and modern means of communication, we can really use modern technology,” she said.
How might this influence the potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on the sustainable development agenda?
“If we do things in exactly the same way, we’re not going to be able to develop an adequate response to the many challenges that are being thrown up to the economy and to society by this. So, innovation is going to be important and fundamental,” said Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
“Hopefully we have learned something: opportunity to invest in climate friendly technologies,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General, World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
From the use of e-health solutions to improve access to health services to mobile money which has brought financial services to people who are unable to access traditional banking solutions, technology is accelerating the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
But despite our best efforts, the digital divide – the gap between those who can and cannot easily and affordably access the Internet – persists. We need to redouble our efforts to make sure that everyone can benefit from these life-changing technologies.
Audrey Azoulay, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted that while digital technologies and distance learning strategies were deployed at record speeds to enable continued education for the estimated 1.5 billion children around the world affected by school closures, 40% of school children don’t have access to digital technologies, rising to 80% in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We are at a time when half of the global population doesn’t have Internet access. So we know that if we were to implement only digital solutions, it would exacerbate the very inequalities that the Agenda 2030 seeks to fight,” said Azoulay.
To mitigate this, the Global Education Coalition was founded in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis to find and implement distance learning strategies that enabled children around the world to continue their education, including remote learning through TV and radio for those without access to the Internet.
The COVID-19 virus knows no border, and so any solution to address it must be equally global in scope. That is why multilateralism is a core component to any strategy designed to address the crisis – and indeed, achieving the SDGS.
Enhancing collaboration and cooperation across countries and between the public and private sector will be key.
“The international community should work together to free up resources for SDG investments and build national capacities to both pandemic recovery and SDG achievement, particularly among developing countries,” said H. E. Mr. Vaqif Sadiqov, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, Chair of the Geneva Chapter of the Non-Aligned Movement.
He pointed to the crucial role that ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda plays in enhancing global connectivity and closing the digital divide by providing a holistic approach that is tailored to specific needs in order to achieve global connectivity.
During the event, the Directors of the ITU Bureaux outlined how ITU is working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mario Maniewicz, Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, noted that the Radio Regulations are paramount to achieving the SDGs.
Chaesub Lee, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, highlighted the role of standardization for digital transformation.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, urged participants to use the opportunity to “build back better with broadband.”
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