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Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 03.54 GMT
Sri Lanka chairs ICT Committee of ESCAP


Sri Lanka’s representative Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, was yesterday (19) elected Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Committee of ESCAP – the Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

The unanimous election took place at the ESCAP meeting in Bangkok which opened Tuesday (18) bringing together ICT experts and policy makers from governments, the academia, UN and other international agencies, and the private sector.

This election signals the view in ESCAP of Sri Lanka’s considerable progress in ICT development, where computer literacy has increased from 5 per cent to nearly 25 per cent in the past three years, with the emphasis placed on ICT development by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The ICT Committee of ESCAP monitors the progress made at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) for Asia and the Pacific.

The Bangkok meeting of the ICT Committee of ESCAP is held in backdrop where despite significant progress in Asia and the Pacific in utilizing ICT, such as with the rapid growth of mobile phone subscriptions, a significant disparity still remains in access to the Internet between high-income and low-income countries.

How to overcome this “digital divide” is the focus of the meeting. A study by ESCAP shows that both phone and Internet use has increased over the last five years in the Asia-Pacific region since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was first held in 2003. For example, the number of mobile phone subscribers has increased by nearly 70 times in South Asia between 2000 and 2007, and by over 40 times in Central Asia. In Southeast Asia, which has a relatively more developed market, the number of subscribers still grew by about 10 times.

By contrast, the gap between rich and poor nations in Internet access has widened over the same period of time. At the top end, the most connected five countries – New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Malaysia – had between 55 per cent to 80 per cent of their populations with access to the Internet by 2007.

For the bottom five – Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia – less than one per cent of the population uses the Internet. The average for the Asia-Pacific region is 20 per cent.

The meeting in Bangkok noted with favour the expansion of Computer Literacy to nearly 25 per cent in Sri Lanka, with particular emphasis on taking IT to the rural sector. This has seen the establishment of over 500 Nenasalas, to approach 1,000 very soon, under the ICT expansion policy of President Rajapaksa, and the new emphasis on IT and English education in the country. The Government has already declared 2009 as the “Year of English & ICT” and has already appointed a Presidential Task Force for the promotion of English and ICT education, chaired by the Minister of Enterprise Development & Investment Promotion Dr. Sarath Amunugama.

Among the participants at the meeting are representatives from Sri Lanka, India, Laos, Malaysia, Japan, Russia, Nepal, and the Republic of Korea, as well as from ESCAP, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Telecommunication Union, United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization, Asian Development Bank, Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, and Microsoft.







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Last modified: July 22, 2009.

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