20 March 2001



NEW YORK, 19 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks made on Saturday, 17 March, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a Confederation of Indian Industry session on closing the digital divide in Hyderabad, India:

Let me first start by thanking you for the warm welcome you have extended to me, to my wife, and to my entire delegation.

It is a great pleasure for me, and also a source of excitement and admiration, to hear you describe what you are doing here in Hyderabad and to see the partnership that is operating between the Confederation of Indian Industry, the United Nations and the people as a whole. And you are quite right to take this approach, because some of the things and the issues you are tackling require complete social mobilization, if they are to succeed.

Chief Minister, the United Nations shares your aspirations. We, at the United Nations, would be very pleased to see other countries harness the power of information technology for the benefit of all people around the world.

I am particularly concerned about the digital divide, which you are tackling so effectively here. The United Nations is concerned about the growing gap between information haves and have-nots. We are concerned about State monopolies that charge exorbitant prices for the use of technology, and about countries that lack the trained work force and legal and regulatory frameworks to attract investments that would allow them to get started on this vital path. These, and other obstacles, mean that there is a real danger in today's world that the poor will be excluded from the knowledge-based global economy.

That is why we at the United Nations and, in particular, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), are establishing an information and communication technology task force. Last month, an advisory group made up of the chief executive officers in information technology, information technology pioneers and other experts, including India’s Sam Pitroda, presented me with recommendations on how we should tackle some of the issues we are discussing here today. And now we are moving ahead with implementation, and sharing that report with governments.

The United Nations has also launched a number of other initiatives in which Indians are playing key roles. One idea is a high-tech volunteer corps known as UNITeS to train people in developing countries in the uses of information technology and the opportunities it presents. India was the first country to form such a group, and Indian volunteers are now working in Orissa providing key information to help with reconstruction efforts following the super-cyclone two years ago. One of those volunteers used the Internet to track the trajectory of another cyclone, and was able to pass on the information so quickly that massive and unnecessary relocation was avoided.

India will also host the first pilot project of another United Nations initiative, the Health Internetwork, which will use the Internet to provide information on public health. I am also delighted to know that the Indian diaspora is actively sharing its information with Indians back home through the Indus entrepreneurs group. Indian companies are also participating in the Global Compact, and I had the opportunity to speak with them in Delhi before I came here.

The Global Compact is a United Nations initiative aimed at improving corporate citizenship, human rights, labour rights and environmental protection and development. The United Nations recognizes that information technology could spread the benefits of development to many parts of the world. We also realize that we can only do this by joining forces with others, establishing working partnerships and encouraging international institutions to work with governments, with the private sector, and with civil society at large. The United Nations itself must provide leadership at the international level to complement the market, and must act as a catalyst -- a cheerleader and a coalition builder -- to bring groups together to work for the betterment of all people.

It would be especially gratifying to see more collaboration within the developing world. We talk a lot about South-South cooperation, but we practice it too little. I see great potential for India and Africa, in particular, to work together. Some African countries are taking impressive steps to lay the groundwork for a digital revolution of their own. They could benefit from your experience, your technology and your assistance.

As you know well, information technology is not a magic formula that is going to solve all our problems. It is a tool. Even in India, half the villages still lack a working telephone. But information technology is an enormously powerful tool. Imaginatively applied, it can offer poor countries a chance to leapfrog some of the long and painful stages of development that other countries have gone through. We must seize these opportunities. And I see that, here in Hyderabad, you are seizing these opportunities with great enthusiasm and excitement.

I congratulate you on what you have achieved and I urge you to share your experience with other countries in the third world.

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