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2.9 billion people still offline: ITU

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GENEVA, 30th November, 2021 (WAM) — An estimated 37 percent of the world's population – or 2.9 billion people – have still never used the Internet, according to the 2021 edition of Facts and Figures, ITU's annual overview of the state of digital connectivity worldwide.

New data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), also reveal strong global growth in Internet use, with the estimated number of people who have used the Internet surging to 4.9 billion in 2021, from an estimated 4.1 billion in 2019.

This comes as good news for global development. However, ITU data confirm that the ability to connect remains profoundly unequal.

Of the 2.9 billion still offline, an estimated 96 percent live in developing countries. And even among the 4.9 billion counted as 'Internet users', many hundreds of millions may only get the chance to go online infrequently, via shared devices, or using connectivity speeds that markedly limit the usefulness of their connection.

"While almost two-thirds of the world's population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet," said ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao. "ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind."

The unusually sharp rise in the number of people online suggests that measures taken during the pandemic – such as widespread lockdowns and school closures, combined with people's need for access to news, government services, health updates, e-commerce and online banking – contributed to a 'COVID connectivity boost' that has brought an estimated 782 million additional people online since 2019, an increase of 17 percent.

The 2021 edition of Facts and Figures, ITU's annual overview of the state of digital connectivity worldwide, shows the number of Internet users globally growing by more than 10 percent in the first year of the pandemic – by far the largest annual increase in a decade.

Strong growth since 2019 was largely driven by increases in developing countries, where Internet penetration climbed more than 13 percent. In the 46 UN-designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the average increase exceeded 20 per cent.

"These statistics show great progress towards ITU's mission to connect the world," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau, which oversees ITU's data and analytics work. "But a vast 'connectivity chasm' remains in the LDCs, where almost three quarters of people have never connected to the Internet. Women in LDCs are particularly marginalized, with roughly four out of every five still offline."

Many of these 'digitally excluded' face formidable challenges including poverty, illiteracy, limited access to electricity, and lack of digital skills and awareness.

"Digital solutions would be needed to re-energize sustainable development and help put countries back on track to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030," Bogdan-Martin added.

"Unfortunately, the communities identified in the 2030 Agenda as most at risk of being left behind are the very same communities now being digitally left behind."

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Saudi tourist killed by elephant in Uganda park

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A Saudi tourist was trampled to death by an elephant during a game drive at a popular park in Uganda, a wildlife official said Wednesday.

The attack happened on Tuesday at the Murchison Falls National Park when the man left the vehicle he was travelling in with friends, said Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesman Bashir Hangi.

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“They stopped along the way and the deceased went out of the car, an elephant charged at him, killed him on the spot,” Hangi said in a statement.

The victim was identified as Ayman Sayed Elshahany.

Park officials said police will investigate Elshahany’s death as they review security protocols to “avoid repeat of such incidents.”

Animal attacks are not unheard of in the East African country.

In 2018, a leopard snatched and ate the three-year-old son of a female game ranger at another park in the west of the country.

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US responds to Russia’s security demands in Ukraine crisis

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The US delivered its response to Russia’s security demands, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, the latest step in the high-stakes diplomacy over Moscow’s buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border.

The response delivered by Ambassador John Sullivan on Wednesday sets out “a serious diplomatic path forward, Blinken told reporters in Washington. “We are open to dialogue, we prefer diplomacy. It remains up to Russia to decide how to respond. We are ready either way.

The report delivered to officials in Moscow largely sticks to points made by Blinken and other US officials: It rejects Russia’s demand that NATO close its door to potential Ukraine membership in the future, but offers suggestions for areas of mutual interest, such as arms control talks and greater transparency over troop movements and military exercises, Blinken said.

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“We will uphold the principle of NATO’s open door, Blinken said, repeating the US and European position that Russia shouldn’t get to dictate which nations join the military alliance.

“We also do lay out areas where we believe that together we could actually advance security for everyone, including for Russia, Blinken said.

The top US diplomat said he expects to speak with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the “coming days, adding that the US response won’t be released publicly.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is expected to speak to reporters soon on the alliance’s response to Russia.

Tensions have soared as Russia masses more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, though officials in Moscow have repeatedly said they have no intention of invading the country.

Nevertheless, a top official of the pro-Kremlin ruling party who’s also a senior member of the Senate, Andrey Turchak, suggested it could send “certain weapons to the separatists it backs in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Openly arming the separatists would undermine Russia’s claims — rejected by Ukraine and the West — that it’s not a party to the conflict.

Russia has said it will decide on whether to continue diplomatic efforts with the US and its allies based on the written answers.

The Kremlin has said it wants the US to respond to its key demands — no further expansion of NATO to the east, no deployments of weapons there that can strike Russia and a pullback of alliance forces in the region — even though Washington has made clear those are non-starters.

Moscow has said previously that the talks the US did offer publicly on limiting missiles and reducing risks around military maneuvers were positive, but not sufficient to address its security concerns.

Even as talks continued and Russia awaited the replies in recent days, the Kremlin continued its buildup of troops, tanks and equipment near Ukraine’s borders, with a major deployment to Belarus for exercises. Russia has said the forces aren’t a threat to anyone, but has refused Western calls to reverse the buildup.

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US to shut down Afghan embassy, strip diplomats of immunity: Sources

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The US government has informed Afghanistan’s diplomats that they will shut down the embassy in Washington and the consulate missions in Los Angeles and New York, sources familiar with the matter tell Al Arabiya English.

The Afghan diplomats will also be stripped of their diplomatic immunity, according to a memo sent to the Afghan diplomats at the beginning of the week.

– Developing

Read more: Once-bustling Afghan Embassy in US down to few diplomats

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