Nº 3 2014 > Interviews and viewpoints
Sustainable development — challenges and opportunities
Mohamad Ahmad Al-Qamzi
Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates
The World Telecommunication Development Conference 2014 (WTDC‑14) addressed development challenges on a huge scale. Its lofty goals and noble aims were nothing less than to promote sustainable development through the optimum use of information and communication technologies (ICT).
This gathering of experts and specialists, representing various regional and international groups, States, the private sector, international organizations and academia, was successful in adopting resolutions that established firm foundations on which to build the programmes and plans to support development in regions that are in dire need of help. These outcomes will enable countries to employ their resources in order to serve their peoples and build their future.
In this regard, I am reminded of the words of the great Arab poet, Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi, who wrote that “Resolutions are measured according to those who take them”. Many communities labouring under a whole range of problems gaze upon ITU’s resolve and look to its resolutions and initiatives. The successes of previous WTDCs, the last of which was held in India in 2010, as well as the numerous events and meetings held under the auspices of ITU, provided a sound basis for the discussions and deliberations at WTDC‑14, leading the conference to decide on general principles, programmes, strategic goals and development strategies for the different regions, as well as the Dubai Action Plan, which is tantamount to a road map for the future.
Closing the digital divide
The different radio frequencies are a resource for people across the world to make use of in sustaining the Earth and supporting development programmes. The use of this scarce resource is a basic human right, so it is regrettable that destabilizing social unrest and other problems continue to prevent many communities from benefiting from this fundamental natural resource.
The lack of equal opportunities to access and use modern digital technologies is an obstacle that must not be ignored or glossed over. The huge discrepancy between countries in this area has created what has come to be called the digital divide, which represents an impediment, indeed an impenetrable barrier, to the development programmes that developing societies desire. Add to that the problems of poverty, unemployment, social marginalization, illiteracy and natural disasters, and we find ourselves faced with considerable challenges that require of us a high degree of cooperation and solidarity, as well as innovative solutions that are practical and realistic.
With regard to the scale of the challenges, it is fortunate that in today’s world we have a number of strengths to help us achieve many of our human aspirations. Perhaps a brief glance at the ICT sector today might help to spread a generous measure of optimism about the possibility of achieving the success to which we aspire. Thus, by the end of 2013, the number of mobile telephone subscriptions had exceeded 6.8 billion. The number of Internet users was over 2.7 billion, which is 40 per cent of the Earth’s population. Turning to broadband use, which was the theme of the WTDC‑14 discussions, we find that it is steadily growing, with 2 billion users by the end of 2013.
Together, these developments represent a positive feature of the world today. They provide us with the means of making it possible to help communities caught up in social unrest and other problems. And extending the hand of assistance to these communities is a humanitarian duty, given concrete form through the successive sessions of the conference.
We hope for much more than what has been achieved in the past. The list is long. In the sphere of health, for example, the possibility exists of using advanced telecommunication systems to provide solutions remotely and across borders, ensuring the continuous improvement of health systems and practice. The same applies in education, social integration, bridging the digital divide, interaction and information exchange programmes, upgrading systems, disaster management and relief operations.
Supporting ITU’s mission
The lofty mission of ITU, based upon fostering links between people through ICT, is one that strikes a chord with the Emirati people. As a Member State and prominent player, the United Arab Emirates will continue to work effectively with ITU in many of the Union’s bodies. We shall spare no effort to benefit from the experience of others in the interests of our society and country, and to place our own successful national expertise at the disposal of others as a concrete expression of the global human dimension on which the mission of ITU is founded.
We in the United Arab Emirates feel enormously grateful for all the appreciation we received for hosting WTDC‑14, and we are supremely proud because we consider it a testament of trust. We look upon our hosting of the conference as crowning our close cooperation with ITU and the members of the Union, and consider that our successful hosting of three major ITU events in 2012 — ITU Telecom World, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly and the World Conference on International Telecommunications — is evidence of our belief in the mission of ITU as the pre-eminent organization that leads the world in the ICT field.