New partnerships reach across the Mediterranean to bridge the digital divide

01 Dec 2010

ICTs and triangular cooperation seen as effective avenues to tackle poverty and provide opportunities in developing countries

Marseille/Geneva – The Mediterranean has historically divided much more than two continents – it separates dramatically different levels of income, education and health, as measured by the Human Development Index. Though not a panacea, it has been recognized in many sectors that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are a great enabler of development and can help countries leapfrog decades of development that enabled the northern shores of the Mediterranean to reach current living standards.

More than 100 delegates from around the Mediterranean concluded today a two-day symposium in Marseille to address the digital divide separating North Africa and the Middle East from Europe.  The conference, which focused on local and regional level cooperation, was organized by ISI@MED (the Information Society Initiative for the Mediterranean, of the UNDP ART programme, a network that facilitates decentralized cooperation to share best practices and leverage comparative advantages).

“It is at the local level where these technologies are needed,” said Cecile Molinier, Director of the UNDP Office in Geneva, which organized the meeting together with the Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) . “This is where we are focusing our energies to create triangular cooperation between the north and south, and between developing countries in the south to replicate and upscale best practices.”

Through this framework, for example, the city of Malaga, Spain, is linked with the city of Tripoli, Lebanon. Francisco Salas, deputy mayor of Malaga, said at the conference that through strategic interventions and support, cities like his can reach across the waters to strengthen the capacities of cities and to help them provide better services, employment and opportunities for their citizens. “Though we are addressing our own challenges in Spain,” said Salas, “we know that helping others reach their potential also benefits our people. Those of us who live on the shores of the Mediterranean are linked in many ways– culturally, historically and economically. ICTs are now allowing us to reconnect and to help one another.”

“This is not development assistance,” said Jean-Paul Bachy, President of the French region of Champagne Ardenne. “But rather a win-win partnership that both supports our friends in the developing regions, as well as  our own villages and towns. Development anywhere is development everywhere.”

Nader Ghazal, Mayor of Tripoli, said the partnership with Malaga and UNDP is enabling him to build the capacity of his staff, to improve city planning and zoning, to enhance service delivery and improve access to information in part through a new Geographic Information System (GIS). “The bottom line for us is to give our citizens access to knowledge, to enable greater participation in local development processes and to ensure that the solutions are sustainable.”

ISI@MED Coordinator and UNDP Geneva Deputy Director Najat Rochdi added that developing countries can no longer talk about human resources in the Age of Information. “What we need is human capital, with the knowledge, tools and resources to make change happen,” she said. “ICTs and triangular cooperation can make this possible.”

Delegates from Mauritania, Senegal, Lebanon and Morocco echoed this sentiment.  “For many already immersed in the information age the power of technology is not always evident,” said Mohammed Sefiani, mayor of Chefchaouen, a city in northern Morocco. Our northern neighbours often take their computers, office software, PDAs and internet access for granted, but for us these things are revolutionizing our levels of service delivery, enabling us to become more transparent and accountable at the same time.”

Contact Information

Adam Rogers
Senior Communication Advisor
Geneva: adam.rogers@undp.org
tel: +41 22 917 8541
 mobile+41 79849 06 79

Najet Tenoutit
ISI@MED focal point
 Marseille: ntenoutit@worldbank.org
+ 33 (0) 6 66 63 36 92