PACIFIC ISLANDS URGED TO USE INTERNET AS DEVELOPMENT TOOL

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By Debbie Singh

SUVA, FIJI Islands (August 16, 1999 – SIDSnet/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---One of the few Pacific Island experts on the Internet has described the medium as "God's gift to the islands" in terms of its addressing two issues pertinent to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) -- those of isolation and of small, fragmented markets.

Taholo Kami, Manager of the United Nations New York-based Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSnet) Internet project says despite being relatively expensive for the Pacific Islands in terms of access costs, the Web still works out cheaper in the long term as it provides instant access to over 150 million people in relevant markets and greatly reduces communication costs.

"In the Pacific, we are on the tip of the iceberg and are still yet to see applications apart from email and Web pages that will directly impact development. This is something that SIDSnet is interested in," he says.

"A lack of appropriate infrastructure has meant higher costs and lack of interest in development in areas most needy such as education, medicine, health, governance and even e-commerce.

"We need," says Kami, "applications that work in today's limited Pacific Island infrastructures, not just tomorrow's ideal affordable and fast connections."

SIDSnet has managed to obtain some 153,000 hits on its website from over 90 countries in the past month -- a total of 50,000 more than in the preceding month.

The SIDSnet program has been highlighting success stories from small island states and also acting as a catalyst for specific initiatives. The network's newswire provides the only means of obtaining development news from island countries.

"For instance," explains Kami, "A Fiji-based NGO can access SIDSnet development news from Mauritius or Jamaica or the NGO can post its own news on the site. SIDSnet has also filed reports from key global conferences leading to the UN Special Session for Small Island Developing States to be held in New York next month, including the 1998 climate change (COP4) conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"The network sees a future role in providing a reporting mechanism for regional meetings through a pool of trained journalists with a development-focused mandate covering international and regional meetings.'

Kami both endorses and advocates the idea of training and institutional strengthening in the Pacific to make the web friendlier, more accessible and to provide women and women's groups with the basic skills and understanding needed to effectively utilize and become directly involved in this medium, particularly in light of next year's Beijing Plus 5 conference, marking five years since the last World Conference on Women in China in 1995.

SIDSnet is a community of 42 Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic, Indian Ocean and African small island nations connected through a global Internet based network. It aims to improve the way in which people in developing countries live, work and communicate through increasing access to information, in particular on sustainable development issues and provides for virtual global connectedness.

In the Pacific, the project is working in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tokelau.

Workshops planned for the Pacific region between now and December include the use of the Internet as a development tool in the areas of distance education and tele-medicine and general overviews of the SIDSnet project.

SIDSnet is also working with the government of Tokelau to provide local email access before the end of 1999.

When the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) agreed on the Barbados Program of Action following the SIDS meeting in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1994, they underscored the importance of information and information technology in the process of achieving sustainable development. This resulted in the concept of a global information network being developed and implemented through SIDSnet.

Last year, Pacific Island leaders from the region's 16 independent South Pacific Forum member states also endorsed SIDSnet activities in the region as part of efforts to implement the Barbados Program of Action.

Title -- 2296 DEVELOPMENT: Pacific urged to use Internet as tool Date -- 16 August 1999 Byline -- Debbie Singh Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- SIDSnet, 16/8/99 Copyright – SIDSnet Status -- Unabridged

Contact: Debbie Singh SIDSnet Content & Training Associate United Nations Development Programme/SIDSnet Phone: (679) 312-500 Fax: (679) 302-994 Email: debbie_singh@hotmail.com

PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific. Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/index.html

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