Governmental representatives from 26 countries tackle digital divideParis - In 2000, only 0.4 percent of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa were internet users, compared to 54.3 percent of US residents (*).
Seeking ways to redress the imbalance, experts from 26 countries from all regions gathered in Paris today for the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Council for the Information for All Programme.
The three-day meeting at UNESCO Headquarters is chaired by Graciela Rodriguez Baca of Peru. The Council will meet every year. It will study measures aiming to bridge the digital divide and propose activities for implementation under UNESCO's Information for All Programme.
The Information for All Programme was established in 2001 to foster debate on the political, ethical and societal challenges of the emerging global knowledge society and to carry out projects promoting equitable access to information. It reflects the growing awareness that informationis playing an increasing role in generating wealth and development, and that participation in the "global knowledge society" is essential for social and individual development.
Recognizing the need to promote access to public domain information, the Information for All Programme will focus on five areas:
· Development of international regional and national information policies based, in particular, on the establishment of international consensus on the concept of universal and equitable access to information as a basic human right;
· Development of human resources and capabilities for the information age, focusing on training and the creation of training networks;
· Strengthening institutions as gateways for information access, especially developing a UNESCO portal to information institutions worldwide;
· Development of information processing and management tools and systems, including the analysis of regional needs and policy planning;
· Information technology for education, science, culture and communication to assist all UNESCO's programmes in formulating and taking informed decisions.
Among other measures, the Council will study possible steps to deal with the increasingly urgent question of digital heritage preservation, as vast quantities of information contained on Internet pages daily disappear without a trace.
In his opening address, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said: "We must look beyond the technical and gadget appeal of ICTs [information and communication technologies] and the Internet. We must ensure that these powerful tools and networks are used effectively to combat poverty and foster development, to create opportunities for education for all, to ensure cultural and linguistic diversity and to empower civil society."
"[…] The knowledge societies which we are now creating must be inclusive," Mr Matsuura said, cautioning that "today, their establishment is hindered by numerous barriers, which are economic, educational and social as well as technical in character."
*Human Development Report 2001, United Nations Development Programme.