World Telecommunication Day
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World Telecommunication Day 1997

Telecommunications and Humanitarian Assistance

Every year, the 17th of May, the date on which the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was founded in 1865, is celebrated worldwide as World Telecommunication Day.

For World Telecommunication Day 1997, the Council of the ITU has chosen the theme of "Telecommunications and Humanitarian Assistance" with the aim of highlighting the growing role of telecommunications in disaster mitigation and relief operations. The ITU Secretary-General, Dr Pekka Tarjanne, has invited the organizations involved in international humanitarian assistance and the authorities of Geneva to closely co-operate in the 1997 event.

The loss of communication links after a disaster such as a cyclone, earthquake or war greatly exacerbates the difficulties for victims, as well as for relief workers, who have problems in ascertaining what kind of assistance is needed and where, in co-ordinating their activities, and in getting information to victims and their families. Also, traditional wireline telecommunications infrastructure is painstakingly slow - and often prohibitively costly - to reconstruct. A long-term lack of basic communications can be very damaging for those affected by a disaster, and the adverse economic consequences can make it very difficult for people to rebuild their lives. The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, IDNDR, 1990ş2000, provides concepts to improve the disaster resistance of telecommunication infrastructure to optimize the use of telecommunications in early warning.

Mobile satellite communication networks and advanced technologies such as the soon-to-be launched satellite-based Global Mobile Personal Communications Systems are excellent tools for effective and
co-ordinated management of international humanitarian aid. In addition, dramatic improvements in traditional means of communication such as shortwave radio, mean that this technology continues to play a valuable role in disaster relief. These communication tools are also indispensable for the personal safety and security of aid workers, who often risk their lives in the dangerous situations created by disasters.

Good progress is also being made on ways to improve availability of such tools to governments and relief agencies by the removal of regulatory barriers which, in many cases, still restrict the full use of the valuable new systems which technological advances have made available.

It is with great pleasure therefore, that we make this first joint announcement for World Telecommunication Day 1997, and extend an invitation to all organizations, institutions and commercial partners involved in telecommunications in the service of humanitarian assistance to join forces and participate in the promotion of the event.

World Telecommunication Day will be celebrated globally, involving the participation of hundreds of groups and organizations worldwide. In Geneva, home to many telecommunications and humanitarian institutions, an Open Door Day will provide the opportunity for the public to experience the important role of telecommunications in humanitarian work by establishing real-time links with other countries mounting similar Open Door Day events, and also with locations affected by humanitarian crises the world over.

Let's celebrate World Telecommunication Day in the spirit of co-operation as an important step towards the optimum application of telecommunications technology in that most noble of causes; the alleviation of human suffering caused by disasters.

The theme of World Telecommunication Day 1997 is a message of hope, and underlines the humanitarian mission of Geneva as a world telecommunications hub.

Geneva, December 1996

For the
International Telecommunication Union

Pekka TARJANNE
Secretary-General
For the United Nations
Department of
Humanitarian Affairs

Yasushi AKASHI
Under-Secretary-General
For the State Council
of the
Republic and Canton of Geneva

Jean-Philippe MAITRE
President

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