Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide and Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein are presenting a new white paper on digital transformation and development policy today.
The white paper makes it clear that Norway will work to ensure that developing countries can benefit from the opportunities offered by innovation and new technology in all its development efforts. By making use of digital tools and pursuing targeted policies, it will be possible to reach more of the weakest and most vulnerable groups in society.
‘We must use digital solutions to find smarter and more effective ways of helping people affected by crises. New technology can also be used to mitigate or prevent disasters. That is why we are now implementing a range of different measures. For example, with the right digital tools, developing countries will be able to predict and issue warnings for natural disasters and extreme weather events at an earlier stage, and will be able to act more quickly to prevent the spread of epidemics,’ Ms Eriksen Søreide said.
‘In developing countries, digital solutions can be used to speed up efforts to achieve the SDGs. With the help of digital tools, the Government will be able to reach more people than it has been able to up until now, in particular the most vulnerable groups, such as refugees, ethnic and religious minorities in rural areas, people with disabilities, and people living in slave-like conditions,’ Mr Ulstein said.
‘We will lead by example. Our aim is to make efforts to promote digitalisation an integral part of our development policy,’ Mr Ulstein said.
New digital public goods alliance
Minister of Digitalisation Nikolai Astrup has participated in the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, which was convened by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. The Panel presented its report in summer 2019. One of the key recommendations was to establish a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance and a platform for sharing digital public goods. The aim will be to share good digital solutions with developing countries. When the new alliance and platform are launched, several Norwegian actors will be on board.
‘We are grateful to the University of Oslo for providing access to its health information system and to the Global Digital Library, which is making electronic books available in a number of languages in developing countries. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute is providing weather data from the online weather service, Yr. Other international actors, from both the private and public sectors, have also shown an interest in contributing. The Government is proposing to provide both financial and technical support for the work to establish a platform for digital public goods, which make quality-assured content available for use in middle- and low-income countries,’ Mr Astrup said.
Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein will be one of four international champions of the alliance.
Huge potential for use in emergency relief efforts
‘Our humanitarian efforts can also be strengthened by making use of digital tools,’ Ms Eriksen Søreide said. New digital tools can for example be used to:
- provide earlier warnings of natural disasters;
- provide far more accurate information in real time about the nature and scale of a disaster;
- disseminate information more effectively and improve coordination of the response;
- ensure more effective documentation of the needs on the ground and faster registration of vulnerable people;
- make cash transfers faster and more secure;
- offer technology-based solutions for providing legal assistance to individuals;
- secure information and documents digitally before and during a disaster, in order to safeguard the rights of people affected by crises with regard to identity, property ownership etc.; and
- help to reunite local communities and restore contact between family members who have been separated from one another as a result of a conflict or crisis.
‘Innovation is identified as a priority area in our humanitarian strategy, which we presented last year. We will work with Innovation Norway, Norwegian humanitarian organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the UN system to promote the use of digital solutions in humanitarian action. Our aim is to save lives, prevent crises and to strengthen the resilience of people in crisis-affected areas,’ Ms Eriksen Søreide said.
In 2017, Norway launched a new development tool that makes it possible for refugee children from Syria to learn to read in areas where schools have been bombed and teachers and families have been forced to flee. With the help of some of the world’s tech giants, Norway has developed two game-based learning apps that can be used by children anywhere.
‘The project has been a huge success. The app has been downloaded onto 350 000 devices. We need more solutions like this one,’ Mr Ulstein said.
Opportunities, but also challenges
In this white paper, the Government is also seeking to raise awareness of the challenges associated with integrating digitalisation into humanitarian efforts.
Digitalisation and the collection of large amounts of information on individuals and vulnerable groups present significant challenges with regard to the right to privacy and protection. Digital forms of warfare such as cyber attacks, the use of armed drones and autonomous weapons systems are creating new challenges relating to international humanitarian law. In addition, digital attacks on critical infrastructure such as health services, drinking water supplies and power plants can have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.