WSIS UN regional commissions meeting Round Table

20 May 2021 12:00h - 13:00h

Event report

The roundtable session reviewed the activities and initiatives of the regional commissions in the promotion of the use of digital technologies during the pandemic.

Mr Tae Hyung Kim (Chief of ICT and Development Section, ICT and Disaster Risk Reduction Division ESCAP) reviewed ICT trends in the Asia-Pacific region, focusing on recent infrastructural and connectivity development.

Mr Ayman El-Sherbiny (UN-ESCWA) continued the dialogue by describing the impact of the development of ICTs in the Arab region. He highlighted the usefulness of key regional initiatives in aiding policymakers in sharing of information regardless of the challenges to, or necessary policy responses. In addition, existing connectivity gaps proved to reinforce previous inequalities and challenges in digital inclusion, and restraining the speed of digital transition during the pandemic, especially among the vulnerable groups.

The key points addressed during the discussion were:

  • The advancing of digital cooperation and development in Arab States
  • Arab digital agenda ICT strategy
  • Arab digital development report
  • The impact of Covid-19 on e-Commerce in the Arab region
  • Regional digital cooperation and development conference
  • Committee on technology for development

El-Sherbiny additionally reviewed the Arab Digital Agenda ICT strategy and examined the Arab Digital Development Report for the key activities within the region despite the constraints of the pandemic. Furthermore, ESCWA collaborated with UNCTAD and other UN Regional commissions in looking at the pandemic’s impact on e-commerce within the Arab region.

During 2020, ESCWA launched the Arab Digital Inclusion Platform project to support policy makers in improving policies and guidelines for e-accessibility, as well as in helping them bridge the digital divide. El-Sherbiny looked at the 2014 ESCWA initiative as an assessment tool for evaluating digital transformation in government services which was rolled out in 2019 in 12 Arab countries. A second full evaluation was conducted in 2020, the results being made available in 2021. An assessment of the impact by the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the Arab employment market has been conducted in order to ensure alignment between the available skills and opportunities.

Mr Mario Apostolov (Regional Advisor, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)) focused on e-business standards, tracking the garment industry and interoperability in document exchange. Considering trade facilitation, there is a need for logistical efficiencies in trade and resilience during times of crisis.

The current COVID-19 crisis elicited a UNDA multi-agency project responding to data exchange according to UN standards in support of the cross-model cargo transfers, amongst others.

Mario highlighted the importance of enhanced transparency and traceability in the garment industry, following a review of a seamless multi-modal supply chain in a holistic push for a true platform economy, where digital technologies would be fully leveraged.

Mr Jean-Paul Adam (Director of Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resource Management Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)) reviewed COVID-19 impact on investment in access already low on the African continent. The focus being made on digital transformation projects with infrastructure, e-commerce, and capacity building, so that the member states would get a point of implementation.

Lastly, Adam reviewed the progress of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in becoming a reality in Africa, and capacity building amongst the youth (e.g. a girl coding camp with 54 countries represented).

Mr Sebastian Rovira (Economic Affairs Officer ECLAC) rounded up the session by reviewing the key role digital technologies have played during the pandemic in Latin America, where digital solutions such as e-learning, e-health, telecommuting, e-commerce, and e-government have reduced the potential negative impact of the virus containment measures implemented.

While accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, full benefits were constrained in some areas where structural limitations existed with infrastructure, or where the capacity and opportunity for rising inequalities existed. The pandemic therefore requires not only an increase in the access to digital technologies but also significant strengthening in the field of the digital cooperation. It will be impossible to provide social welfare to the most vulnerable without the digital transformation within the required framework, and the continued protection of the economic, labor, and social rights, along with the protected rights regarding personal data.