The Global Information Infrastructure
and Sustainable Development

The Global Information Infrastructure (GII) has an important role to play in sustainable development. The GII fosters dialogue between nations and ethnic groups and enables applications such as collaborative scientific research, distance learning, telemedicine, and electronic commerce. Electronic networking is transforming communications and the conduct of research around the world. While this transformation is fastest in the industrialized world, it is taking place in the developing world as well.

Facilitating services and research. HealthNet in Africa links physicians, researchers, medical educators, and other health care workers to their colleagues abroad. ARCCNET (African Regional Centre for Computing Network) serves as a platform for computer training and research, facilitating cooperation and improved linkages between the computer industry, academia, and policymaking institutions.

Improving management of natural resources. The United States Geological Survey is providing computer hardware, software, and technical support to establish Geographic Information System (GIS) facilities at different sites in the world through cooperative programs. These facilities compile, digitize, analyze, and distribute geologic, environmental, and related information to support programs in energy and mineral resources, sustainable economic development, and environmental protection.

Strengthening healthcare. By linking hospitals around the world to the United States on the Internet, the United States Centers for Disease Control share information on, and create databases for, communicable diseases.

Promoting scientific advances. In conjunction with the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), the United States Information Agency intends to bring Newly Independent States (NIS) scholars and members of nongovernmental organizations and related professional and governmental groups in contact with one another and link them into international databanks via computer communications. For example, a group of 60 Russian educators visiting the United States in 1995 will be linked to their American colleagues and one another through an IREX electronic mail network upon their return to Russia.

The goal of the Administration-s GII initiative is to foster the communication and cooperation that will be needed to spur the transformation of a thousand discrete networks in the developed and developing worlds into a connected, interoperable global information infrastructure.

An Environmental Technology Strategy

Not only knowledge but also appropriate technology must be promoted if we are to foster global sustainability. The Clinton Administration has crafted a forward-looking environmental technology strategy that should allow us to move expeditiously toward sustainable development. The result of working with thousands of stakeholders over two years to identify a core set of five themes to guide future activities, this national strategy is presented in the Administration document, Bridge to a Sustainable Future. The five themes are designed to establish a framework for partnerships, goal setting, policy development, and action. Within each theme, a series of findings, goals, and initiatives have been identified that together articulate a technological path leading toward sustainable development. The agencies of the Federal Government are developing specific action plans for implementing this strategy, but industry, labor, communities, nongovernmental organizations, individuals, state governments, and nations around the world all have important responsibilities as well. The key to progress is to build on the strengths of each sector in order to achieve goals collectively that cannot be achieved individually.

Broadly, the five themes of the strategy comprise: (1) the development of a new generation of incentive-based policies and programs that stress performance, flexibility, and accountability; (2) shifting from reacting to environmental damage to anticipating and avoiding it; (3) supporting investment in and the diffusion of successful technologies; (4) moving rural and urban communities toward sustainability; and (5) building more effective, open, and productive collaboration among stakeholders. Specific goals of the national environmental technology strategy include improving substantially the nation's environmental monitoring data and information systems over the next five years through public-private partnerships designed to share information essential for sustainable development, and promoting the use of environmentally sound and socially appropriate technologies in developing nations throughout the world.

Responding to Global Threats

A strategy of sustainable development and preventive diplomacy also requires a robust response to global threats such as emerging or reemerging infectious diseases, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Whereas natural disasters threaten sustainable development in a particular nation or region in a catastrophic manner, these other threats are potentially global in scope but may have onsets that take years or decades to become apparent or build these global threats.

Infectious Diseases

Modern transportation, international trade, and population shifts all contribute to the spread of diseases in developed and developing countries. As a result, infectious diseases that originate in distant parts of the world represent a potential health risk to U.S. citizens. Early detection and vigorous intervention efforts are essential to containing new and reemerging diseases before they spread. In the United States and in other industrialized nations, however, the majority of health care funds pay for treatment of those who are already ill. The key to dealing effectively with new or re-emerging infectious diseases is global surveillance and response, and basic biomedical research.

Infectious diseases can prevent U.S. troops operating abroad from being an effective fighting force. Techniques to prevent, detect, and control these diseases are important to keeping our troops healthy.

A well-designed surveillance program can detect and track unusual clusters of illness and establish their geographic and demographic characteristics. Effective surveillance and prevention strategies must be based on an understanding of the complex interactions between humans and microbes as well as an understanding of the evolutionary and genetic factors that cause epidemics.

The Administration is putting into place a national response to the threat of infectious diseases. While continuing to support research and training in basic and applied research to support U.S. leadership in disease surveillance, the United States will strengthen its ability to respond to epidemics by increasing U.S. "surge" capacity for the emergency production of diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines. Internationally, the United States will work with multilateral organizations and other countries to improve worldwide disease surveillance, reporting, and response, encouraging other countries to make infectious disease detection and control national priorities. U.S. Government laboratories and field stations abroad will be coordinated to form regional hubs in a global disease surveillance system. Our ultimate goal is to foster the creation of a worldwide disease surveillance and response network.

Climate Change

In 1992 the United States joined the international community in signing the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was a treaty that called on all nations to work together to protect the global environment. Specifically, the industrialized countries were urged to take the lead by stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Soon after taking office, the Administration went beyond the nonbinding language of the treaty to declare that the United States would meet this goal.

The Administration has developed a plan aimed at fulfilling this commitment. The government has signed voluntary agreements with the bulk of the U.S. utility industry to keep greenhouse gas emissions down. Similar partnerships have been forged with U.S. industry on energy-efficient computers, buildings, and lighting systems. The Administration has launched a partnership for a new generation of vehicles-the Clean Car Initiative. And the United States has pledged $430 million to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for its second phase, the largest contribution of any nation in the world.

The Importance of Surveillance Systems
for Infectious Diseases

The outbreaks of Ebola in Zaire and plague in India have emphasized the importance of national and international surveillance and response capabilities to infectious diseases. Our past experience has demonstrated that allowing surveillance capabilities to dwindle may have serious consequences. Prevention or early intervention is both more humane and less expensive than mounting a late, emergency response.

For example, for many years the United States had in place a surveillance system to monitor cases of tuberculosis (TB). However, during the 1980s Federal and local spending on infectious disease control declined, and in 1986 the surveillance system for multi-drug-resistant TB was discontinued. Consequently, there was no warning signal when drug-resistant TB emerged in the late 1980s. This lack of early warning undoubtedly contributed to the more than $700 million in direct costs for TB treatment incurred in 1991 alone. Surveillance of drug-resistant TB was not reinstated until 1993, by which time multi-drug-resistant TB had become a public health crisis and millions of Federal dollars had been allocated.

AIDS is a new disease that was unknown before the 1980s and thus was not on any surveillance lists. AIDS weakens the immune system, allowing other infections to take hold. Therefore, it can be difficult to diagnose, since its clinical presentation may involve a variety of symptoms, and its incubation period (the time between infection and the appearance of symptoms) is several years. Nevertheless, long before AIDS was diagnosed in the United States and Europe, a distinct syndrome called Slim Disease (now known to be a form of AIDS) that causes its victims to waste away was recognized by African doctors. In fact, an aggressive, Slim-associated, generalized form of Kaposi's sarcoma, distinct from the classical form, has been described in Uganda since at least 1962. If a global surveillance system with the capacity to identify new diseases had been in place in the 1970s, AIDS might have been identified earlier, perhaps before it became well established in the United States. Epidemiologists might have gained a headstart in learning how AIDS is transmitted and prevented, and many lives might have been saved.

But in addition to these action-oriented steps, the Administration also recognizes that our understanding of climate change and other environmental issues rests on fundamental research, the data for which must come from comprehensive observations. The Administration has therefore identified environmental observations and data management as an area to receive enhanced emphasis.