For information only - not an official document.
24 January 2001


NEW YORK, 23 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a message from Secretary- General Kofi Annan to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seminar in Kothmale, Sri Lanka, on the digital divide. The message was delivered on the Secretary- General’s behalf on Sunday by Stella Hughes of UNESCO:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all who have gathered in Sri Lanka for this international seminar on the digital divide.

The world is in the midst of an information revolution. The new communications technologies are the driving force of globalization. They are bringing people together, and giving decision makers unprecedented new tools for development. At the same time, however, there is a real danger that the world's poor will be excluded from the emerging knowledge-based global economy.

Information technology is inexpensive compared to other forms of capital. All that is needed is a relatively small investment in basic education, and in making computers, cell-phones and the like available to groups of people, so that each individual does not have to buy their own. Already this is happening in parts of the developing world. By exporting micro-chips, Costa Rica achieved the highest growth rate in Latin America in 1999. Public telecentres have been established in places from Peru to Egypt to Kazakhstan. Indeed, information technologies can give developing countries the chance to leapfrog some of the long and painful stages of development that other countries have had to go through.

But bridging the digital divide is not going to be easy. Too often, State monopolies charge exorbitant prices for the use of bandwidths. Governments need to do their part to create investment-friendly environments and transparent regulatory frameworks, and to train and re-train the workforce. The private sector can be a real ally in this endeavour. The United Nations can also help. We are establishing a Digital Task Force to develop sustainable and innovative solutions for these issues. I have also launched the United Nations Information Technology Service, a global consortium of high-tech volunteer corps to train people in developing countries in the uses and opportunities of information technology.

Information technology is not a magic formula that is going to solve all our problems. But it is a powerful tool with diverse applications. Our challenge is to put that power at the service of all humankind. UNESCO and all others involved in making this seminar possible merit recognition for focusing attention on this key global imperative. Please accept my best wishes for a successful event.

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