I managed to score an invitation to participate in a high-level roundtable on “Innovation and Investment: Scaling Science and Technology to Meet the Millennium Development Goals” yesterday sponsored by the UN ICT Task Force and the UN Millennium Project. Here is the statement I wanted to give:
It is a great honor to be here today to represent the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) at this Global Roundtable forum on “Innovation and Investment: Scaling Science and Technology to Meet the MDGs.” This topic could not be more timely or vital as governments across the street seek agreement on how to reach the Millennium Development Goals. In our view, the role of science and technology in achieving the MDGs, as well as the UN’s human rights and peace and security goals, can not be underestimated.
For CONGO, our main concern is the level to which civil society globally is mobilized alongside governments and the private sector to reach the goals. Without the involvement of active and informed citizenry and their own self-initiated organizations, any plan to deliver the goals will not succeed. It is for this reason that CONGO has made a priority informing and educating our own networks and members about the Millennium Goals and how they can take part in their fulfillment. Without the internet and other ICTs, we simply would not be capable of fulfilling this task.
Pertinent to the topic at hand, we see synergistic linkages among civil society, science and technology, and the Millennium Development Goals. Specifically, civil society provides the connections to everyday citizens and grassroots concerns, science and technology provides the tools and expertise, and the Millennium Development Goals provide the targets. All of these components are necessary to a coherent development strategy.
One area where these three components come together most poignantly is international responses to natural disasters.
Natural disasters highlight the need to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals. Often those who are most adversely affected by natural disasters are those living in poverty (MDG1), women (MDG3) and slum dwellers (MDG7). MDG6 “Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases” directly relates to health pandemics. Environmental degradation can exacerbate the effects of natural disasters, emphasizing the need to achieve MDG8 “Ensure Environmental Sustainability.”
In terms of science and technology, fighting emerging pandemics and other health threats requires that the most up-to-date research and scientific knowledge is freely available to scientists and practitioners in the field. ICTs can facilitate knowledge sharing, collaborative research, multi-disciplinary epistemic communities, and free access to scientific journals. Science and technology are key to monitoring weather and geological events. Communications technologies can help ensure that accurate and timely information is delivered to affected communities.
Meanwhile, civil society groups, such as the Red Cross, M‚decins sans FrontiŠres, and the International Rescue Committee, are many times aware of emerging crises before government agencies. Civil society often demonstrates the most innovative uses of technology to respond to these disasters. For example, blogging communities mobilized much faster than governments to help victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katarina by posting pictures of missing persons, highlighting the plight of marginalized communities and sharing real-time reports about the situation on the ground.
Other man-made disasters such as famine, war, and massive human rights violations demonstrate similar intersections of science, civil society and the MDGs.
What can the United Nations do to “scale up” these efforts at disaster relief? The United Nations already plays an important role in information sharing. The UN has committed itself to helping establish a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean. Other innovative UN initiatives include Reliefweb and the Humanitarian Early-warning Service (HEWS) . The World Health Organization’s “Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network” is a good example of a information-sharing among government agencies, international humanitarian relief organizations and NGOs.
But beyond simple information-dissemination and sharing, the UN can do more to coordinate governments, civil society, the private sector and everyday citizens to help those who need it in times of crisis. The UN can be a bridge-builder, convenor, and arbiter that can multiply the impact of the various actors on the ground. These efforts can build political capital and create precedents for deeper coordination among various actors.
Natural disasters often temporarily create good-will among governments, businesses, and civil society that the United Nations should capitalize on. Building upon disaster relief efforts, the UN can mobilize longer-term, multi-actor partnerships towards alleviating poverty, eradicating hunger, and re-building vibrant local economies, which, not coincidentally, is MDG8.
By moving from disaster to lasting development, the UN can achieve the MDGs by 2015.