U.N. report: Harness technology to improve world’s living conditions

NEW YORK – The United Nation’s new Human Development Report 2001 calls for harnessing new technologies to help transform the lives of the poor.

Although the report ranks Mexico among potential leaders in its new Technology Achievement Index, President Vicente Fox of Mexico said his country still has far to go in linking science and technology with the needs of the poorest and most marginalized groups.

Fox helped release the report July 10 in Mexico City.

“We are convinced that it is possible to eradicate poverty and improve living conditions in the course of one generation,” he said. “This is an ethical and political obligation.”

Describing poverty as an “affront and shame for all and a source of instability on the global scene,” Fox called on the international community to make human development its highest goal and make democracy and globalization serve more effectively to improve the living conditions of the majority of the world’s population.

A challenge. The Human Development Report 2001 shows that, “the challenge for the 21st century is not whether to focus on technological advancement in addition to other development goals,” said Malloch Brown, U.N. administrator, “but how to take advantage of new technologies and use them strategically as a tool for development.”

This is already happening in a number of places, he noted. Cuba has developed the first effective vaccine for meningitis-B. Vietnam reduced the death toll from malaria by 97 per cent in just five years with locally-produced, high-quality drugs.

South Africa now has more mobile phones than fixed-lines and has pioneered innovations to provide services even in poor and remote villages. Brazilian scientists, with government support, have produced a prototype Internet-ready computer costing only $300.

GMO crops hold potential.

Brown said that as long as the risks are carefully managed, genetically modified crops hold huge potential for creating more nutritious, drought and disease-resistant crops that require little or no pesticides or fertilizer.

Developing countries should get support, he said, to follow the lead of countries like Argentina and Egypt to build the capacity for monitoring and testing such crops, based on local needs and ecosystems.

New findings. Among the report’s findings, the Technology Achievement Index ranks Finland as the leader in creating and using technology, ahead of the United States, Sweden, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

In the Human Development Index, Norway ranked first this year and Australia second. Both moved narrowly ahead of Canada, the leader in the past six years. The index is based on life expectancy, school enrollment and adult literacy and income per person.

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