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ITU Strategy and Policy Unit News Update 
Monthly News Flash - February 2005


Issue 14


To read our previous editions, please click here

In this Edition
1. Ubiquitous Technology Spearheads Disaster Relief
2. ITU Mobilizes to Aid Tsunami Victims
3. Seventh Meeting of the WG/WSIS
4. Taking Stock of Stocktaking
5. Related links 
               


1. Ubiquitous Technology Spearheads Disaster Relief

The tragedy in the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004, reminds us of the fragility of human existence. Despite all our advances, no technology exists to prevent such submarine earthquakes or halt the resulting tsunamis. However, just visible amongst all the devastation and human suffering is the faintest glimmer of a silver lining; despite our impotence in preventing the catastrophe, no sooner had the ocean receded, than the new telecommunication technologies sprang to the assistance of the survivors. Although not always useable near the epicentres, mobile phones (voice and SMS), made the coordination of the regional and global rescue effort easier; particularly so, as the tragedy occurred right in the middle of the Christmas holiday, when many people with the appropriate skills were away from their offices and homes. Once again, e-mail proved invaluable in the coordination of the rescue effort and also enabled survivors (and others in the region who were not affected) to contact their families. Photographs posted on the Internet (some taken with camera phones) enabled many of the survivors, especially the most seriously injured adults, as well as young children separated from their families, to be identified and reunited with their loved ones. And, of course, the aid agencies were able to use their websites and e-mail to secure funding for their humanitarian operations, some of which will have been made through electronic transfers. Terrible as the disaster was, had it not been for the mobile phone, the Internet and e-mail, the rescue efforts would have been less efficient and its effects would certainly have been even more tragic.

On 8 January 2005, the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations entered into force. Under its provisions, victims of future disasters will benefit from faster and more effective rescue operations. Disaster relief workers rely heavily on telecommunications to coordinate the complex logistics of rescue and relief operations: until now, the trans-border use of telecommunication equipment by humanitarian organizations has often been hindered by regulatory barriers that make it extremely difficult to import and rapidly deploy emergency telecommunications equipment. "In emergency situations, telecommunications save lives," said Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for telecommunications, which, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has played a leading role in drafting and promoting the Convention.

 

States party to the Tampere Convention are obliged to make the provision of telecommunication assistance following a disaster quicker and easier and the treaty also covers the installation and operation of reliable, flexible telecommunication services. Regulatory barriers that impede the use of telecommunication resources for disasters are waived. These barriers include the licensing requirements to use allocated frequencies, restrictions on the import of telecommunication equipment and limitations on the movement of humanitarian teams. "OCHA aims to ensure the best response to disasters to prevent loss of life and help survivors. The Convention will make that work easier," said Jan Egeland, Operational Coordinator of the Tampere Convention. The Convention also describes the procedures for requesting and providing telecommunication assistance and recognizes the right of a state to direct, control and coordinate all assistance provided within its territory under the Convention. It defines specific elements and aspects of telecommunication assistance, such as the termination of the assistance and the settlement of disputes. It requires states to make an inventory of their resources — both human and material — available for disaster mitigation and relief, and to develop a telecommunication action plan that identifies the steps needed to deploy those resources.

 

In achieving the objectives of the Convention, the Operational Coordinator will seek the cooperation of other appropriate United Nations agencies, particularly the International Telecommunication Union. The 17-article, legally binding, international treaty was adopted unanimously on 18 June 1998, by the delegates of the 75 countries attending the Intergovernmental Conference on Emergency Telecommunications (ICET-98), hosted by the Finnish town of Tampere, about 200 km north of Helsinki. The Convention was opened for accession and required 30 ratifications before coming into effect. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

 

2ITU Mobilizes to Aid Tsunami Victims

As the enormous scale of the disaster became clear, ITU set up a Tsunami Emergency Team and prepared 15 Inmarsat satellite terminals for possible deployment to the affected countries, including seven to Indonesia, whose Government had also requested ITU assistance in developing a telecommunication restructuring plan for the Aceh area, its most affected region. ITU reported that the cable network in Banda Aceh had been destroyed, however GSM service was still available. ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) drew up a deployment plan for the Inmarsat terminals and took the necessary steps to get the terminals out to the area and set up. By a fortunate coincidence, ITU had recently published its ‘Handbook on Emergency Telecommunications’ and immediately set about making copies available to the appropriate Member States and UN organizations, such as OCHA.

ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi, decided immediately that ITU should send several staff from Geneva to supplement and support the ITU staff in the Bangkok and Jakarta offices. Meanwhile, the ITU staff in the affected areas carried out a swift preliminary assessment of the situation and then began to identify the immediate, medium and long-term needs for telecom infrastructure and support in the region. ITU, led by Cosmas Zavazava, presented a thematic session at the UN World Disaster Reduction Conference in Kobe, Japan in mid-January 2005, with our partner Inmarsat. The session highlighted the role of emergency telecommunications in disaster response, prevention and relief, using a case study approach. The ITU-Inmarsat partnership was announced and the use of the satellite terminals was demonstrated. The session explored the potential of multi-purpose community telecentres for the dissemination of disaster information and also promoted the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) by focusing on the role of ICTs in disaster situations, as outlined by the Declaration and Plan of Action.

In the medium term, ITU has proposed developing, by June 2005, an ITU  ‘Ready-to-Use Emergency Response’ protocol – including equipment and staff - for disasters of this nature. In addition, ITU is considering assessing what activities its Sector Members have undertaken to support the disaster relief and to compile an inventory that might help with ITU’s future disaster response strategies.

On 22 February 2005, during WSIS PrepCom2, ITU and the World Health Organization will hold two themed sessions on ICTs and disaster relief; the first from 13.30 to 14.45 and the second following the afternoon session (18.15 to 19.30). The first session will cover "ICTs for health action in the Tsunami crisis," and the second will cover "Telecommunications for disaster relief: Tampere Convention". Both will take place in Salle XI of the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland.                                                                             


3. Seventh Meeting of the WG-WSIS 

The seventh meeting of the WSIS Working Group (WG-WSIS) was held in Geneva on 13 and 14 December 2004, under the chairmanship of Professor Vladimir Minkin (Russian Federation), standing in for Chairman Yuri Grin, who was unavoidably absent. Amongst the items on the agenda was a report from Charles Geiger, the Executive Director of WSIS-ES, on the proposed structure for the Tunis phase and the changes in the WSIS Bureau. Tim Kelly, the Head of the WSIS content team, reported on the status of preparations for the Tunis phase (including the decision of PrepCom-1 and the work of the Group of Friends of the Chair). Markus Kummar, Executive Director of the WGIG Secretariat, brought the Members up to date on the progress of the Working Group on Internet Governance. Pape Gorgui Touré, who had represented ITU on the Task Force at its meeting of 29 November 2004, gave a briefing on the progress of the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms

Given that the papers represented somewhat differing views, as well as diverse visions of what ITU should propose to WGIG and what the role of governments ought to be, it was decided to establish an ad hoc group, to be chaired by Willy Jensen (Norway). This group subsequently reported that the WG-WSIS should present a report on Internet Governance for review by the ITU Council. A first draft will be circulated amongst WG-WSIS members by the end of January 2005 and discussed further at the 8th Meeting of the WG-WSIS PrepCom-3.

The Working Group also reviewed two papers containing proposals on how ITU might adapt itself to the information society; one, from the ITU Secretary-General, focused on ITU’s strategic plan; the other, from Brazil, focused on the need for ITU to remain multilateral, democratic and transparent. The Russian Federation proposed that ITU’s area of responsibility be studied and that consideration be given to broadening it. Russia also raised the question of amending the names of ITU and ITU-D, to include ICTs in them.                         

Box 2: Summary of the Decisions Taken by the WG-WSIS
 

1.      To encourage the ITU membership to continue submitting contributions on WSIS-related activities to WSIS stocktaking;

2.      To ensure that ITU continues to contribute actively to the preparations for the second phase, including thorough participation in WSIS Thematic and Regional Meetings;

3.      To submit the Chairman’s report from the ITU Thematic Meeting on Countering Spam to WSIS PrepCom-2;

4.      To invite Member States and Sector Members to take into account the examination of options for a possible follow-up mechanism for WSIS in their submissions to WSIS PrepCom-2;

5.      To invite the Secretariat to revise the report on proposals for how ITU should adapt itself to the Information Society. This would be made available for comments by 1 January 2005;

6.      Invite the Secretariat to prepare a report for Council 2005 on Internet governance, for circulation among WSIS members by 31 January 2005.

                                                                                                                                                                                                


4. Taking Stock of Stocktaking

A "stocktaking"is being carried out, with the dual purpose of providing an inventory of activities undertaken by governments and all stakeholders to implement the Geneva decisions (WSIS Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action) and taking stock of the progress made in achieving the Information Society. A stocktaking questionnaire and database was launched by the WSIS Executive Secretariat in October 2004, and by mid-January 2005, some 1'200 activities had been submitted. The submissions cover all WSIS-related activities, including project descriptions, supporting documentation and URLs, which are searchable by keywords, such as WSIS action lines, development goals contained in the Millennium Declaration Goals (MDGs), geographical coverage, etc. To visit the stocktaking website, please click here.

The WSIS stocktaking is a continuous process and the database remains open for new submissions. Those received by 15 January 2005, were taken into account in the preliminary report on stocktaking, to be presented at PrepCom-2 (February 2005). Activities submitted by 30 June 2005, will be reflected in the stocktaking report to be presented at PrepCom-3 (September 2005). In December 2004, a presentation was made to the 7th Meeting of the Working Group on WSIS in Geneva regarding the launch of the WSIS stocktaking questionnaire and searchable database. The Preliminary Report on the WSIS Stocktaking was posted on the WSIS website towards the end of January 2005 and a preliminary analytical report on the stocktaking exercise will be made to PrepCom-2.  ITU Member States and Sector Members are urged to continue submitting material for the stocktaking, together with any comments they might have on the report. 


5. Related links

Tampere Convention Comes into Force (ITU Press Release)
Working Group on Emergency Telecommunications
World Dialogue on Regulation for Network Economies (Emergency Communication)
WSIS Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action
ITU Internet Report 2004 "The Portable Internet" (September 2004) 

 

 

Thank you for reading the Strategy and Policy Unit Monthly News Flash. Should you have any comments, or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact: ITU Strategy and Policy Unit, International Telecommunication Union, Place des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 20 (Switzerland). Fax: +41 22 730 6453. E-mail: spumail@itu.int. We also invite you to visit our website: www.itu.int/spu/

 

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