#WorldEnvironmentDay: ICTs combatting climate change and saving lives in Small Island Developing States

SIDS-blogToday the world celebrates World Environment Day.

As we commemorate the World Environment Day, the international community is finalizing preparations for the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society +10 (WSIS +10) high-level event to be held at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva from 10-13 June 2014. Equally important is the fact that preparations for the Third International Conference for Small Island Developing States  to be held in Samoa this September are in full gear. The significance of WSIS +10 and the Conference for SIDS events is that they both address the ever-pressing environmental challenges faced by many countries and in particular, Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Environmental degradation, sea-rise, vulnerability to external economic shocks and natural disasters and isolation characterize the plight of SIDS. Yet, SIDS not only provide shelter to some of the richest reservoirs of flora and fauna on the planet, but these biodiversity hotspots are home to over 60 million people.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can help mitigate the challenges confronted by these countries through remote sensing, geographical information systems, and improved communications systems. These technologies have now brought the information society within our grasp. ITU statistics show that by end of 2014, there will be more than 7 billion mobile subscriptions, almost 3 billion Internet users and more than 2.3 billion mobile-broadband subscriptions across the globe. SIDS are registering high growth particularly in Internet and broadband uptake.

While each Small Island Developing State is unique in terms of location, level of development, culture and topography, SIDS face several common vulnerabilities, whether it is their remoteness, size, dependence on international trade, or their extreme susceptibility to natural disasters. Most of all, these 32 states face the unprecedented risk of losing a significant part of their already limited territory due to the expected sea-level rise from climate change. If current trends continue, several of them will completely disappear in just a few decades time. This is something the world cannot accept.

This year, on World Environment Day, we must think big. We must launch innovative solutions to address the challenges met by Small Island Developing States.

In doing so, our actions will contribute to the success of the upcoming Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Taking place in Apia, Samoa, from 1-4 September 2014, the Conference will produce a forward looking action plan to ensure their long-term sustainability. ITU is taking every measure to deploy appropriate technologies to help these countries cope with these challenges. The recently ITU launched Satellite Connectivity Project for Pacific Island SIDS, is a case in point.

ITU’s commitment to Small Island Developing States

We must increase our efforts to combat the environmental danger these beautiful islands face, and ICTs  will play a central role in this mission. Not only do they support SIDS in bridging the digital divide, but they are essential in preserving SIDS’ environments and their rich cultural diversity.

Over the past years, ITU has proactively addressed the special ICT needs of SIDS whether resulting from high communications costs, or limited resources in developing policies for ICT usage. ITU has been, and continues to be, committed to assisting Small Island Developing States to monitor, predict, mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

ITU assists SIDS to develop and establish early warning systems and emergency telecommunications, to better manage and respond to climate change and disasters.  By working with key regional partners, both public and private, ITU has and will continue to deploy assistance to SIDS in the aftermath of disasters. For example, ITU has pioneered Disaster Risk Reduction strategies through Early Warning Systems that focus on emergency communications, preparedness and mitigation.

Our commitment was renewed during this year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-14). The Dubai Declaration, a major outcome of this conference, stated that:

“Telecommunications/ICTs can make a substantial contribution to monitoring, predicting, mitigating and adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. All countries, particularly small island developing states (SIDSs), least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and low-lying coastal countries, which are vulnerable to global climate change and rising sea levels, should have means to use telecommunications/ICTs to mitigate and address the effects of climate change, exploring all opportunities provided by telecommunications/ICTs in reducing the negative impact of human activities on the environment.”

Sustainable future for all with ICT

I urge all SIDS to further emphasize the role of ICTs as an enabler for sustainable development in any future post-2015 plan of action, whether social, economic or environmental. The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, just a few months away, will be the perfect moment to seize this opportunity. SIDS’ decisions will have a significant bearing on the final outcome of the post-2015 sustainable development process.

I also believe ICTs are an integral part of the solution for SIDS’s commitment to set our planet on a sustainable path.

With ITU’s support, there is no doubt, we are on our way to achieving our goals. Not only in tackling climate change and enhancing emergency telecommunications in SIDS, but also in promoting social and economic development for all.

Let’s raise our voices, not the sea-level!

For more information about ITU’s action on Climate Change visit: http://www.itu.int/en/action/climate/Pages/default.aspx

For more information about World Environment Day, and how you can make a difference visit: http://www.unep.org/wed/

By: Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, Chief of Department, Project Support and Knowledge Management, ITU/BDT

cosmasDr. Cosmas Zavazava (Ph.D., LLM, MBA, MA, BBA, Dip. Systems Engineering), works in the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU. He is a widely quoted author on information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D), least developed countries and small island developing states, and emergency telecommunications and climate change. He has developed and implemented a host of ICT projects across the globe. He has designed and deployed wireless solutions for development, risk disaster reduction, and disaster management including early warning systems for disaster response.

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