Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tampere Convention and life-saving technology


Features of the week:

To better the world during emergencies is one of the cardinal points of Information Society, and a welcome development with Tampere Convention, despite the absence of Nigeria in any of its processes so far. Reports REMMY NWEKE.

COMMUNICATIONS in disaster areas have always proved difficult, especially for relief workers like the Red Cross among other humanitarian agencies worldwide.

Disaster is known to be a sudden event such as flood, storm, earthquake or accident, which causes great damage or suffering. It could be subdivided into natural disaster and man-made.

This, no doubt led to the recent holding of a treaty otherwise known as Tampere Convention on Emergency Telecommunications following its ratification by about 30 countries globally, excluding Nigeria.

The situation report released on February 15, 2005, by the United Nations Office
for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that approximately 500,000 people were affected in the Pakistan rains/snowfall, according to its resident coordinator in the country.


From Sudan in Africa where millions of lives are at stake, to Columbia where over 1,000 have fled their homes to Venezuela and Guyana where torrential rains and flooding displaced thousands of citizens. And With what happened at the Tsunami disaster, last December, the treaty must have come appropriately to avoid the re-occurrence in the future.

However, the treaty, entitled “Tampere Convention on Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations” was endorsed on Saturday, January 8, 2005, thus making it possible for usage of telecommunication equipment over trans-border without hindrance, especially by humanitarian organizations.

Until now, the trans-border use of telecommunication equipment by humanitarian organizations often were impeded by regulatory barriers that make it extremely difficult to import and rapidly deploy telecommunications equipment for emergencies.

Disasters are considered to kill one million people each decade and leave millions more homeless. When disaster strikes, communications’ links are often disrupted; yet for disaster relief workers who arrive on the scene these links are essential.

Questions that require information gathering for immediate response include: how many people have been injured or have died, where the injured are located, where they should be dispatched and the extent of the medical help needed.

As well, workers rely heavily on telecommunications to coordinate the complicated logistics of rescue and relief operations.

In the absence of an agreed multilateral framework that temporarily waives formalities, delays have meant the loss of lives.

“In emergency situations, telecommunication saves lives,” said Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for telecommunications, which, along with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has been a driving force in drafting and promoting the convention.

He said, “With this Convention, relief workers can make full use of today’s telecommunication tools which are essential for the coordination of rescue operations.”

According to the Chief Information and Communications Technology officer at UNOCHA and Head, Special Unit for Least Developed Countries at Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) in ITU, Mr. Cheriff Ghaly and Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, respectively, the Tampere Convention calls on states to facilitate the provision of prompt telecommunication assistance to mitigate the impact of a disaster, and covers both the installation and operation of reliable, flexible telecommunication services.

Regulatory barriers that impede the use of telecommunication resources for
disasters are thereby waived. These barriers they said, include the licensing
requirements to use allocated frequencies, restrictions on the import of
telecommunication equipment as well as 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 Mr. Jan Egeland, operational coordinator of the Tampere convention.

The convention also safeguards the privileges, immunities and facilities granted to persons providing disaster assistance by granting them immunity from arrest and detention and exempting them from taxation and duties.

As the first treaty of its kind, the convention also defines the non-governmental organizations and non-state entities whose personnel would be granted these privileges and immunities when engaged in supporting the work of UN humanitarian and rescue organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), OCHA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC).

The Convention defines the overall framework for the cooperation among states parties and all other partners in international humanitarian assistance.

It describes the procedures for request and provision of telecommunication assistance, recognizing the right of a state party to direct control and coordinate assistance provided under the convention within its territory.

It also defines specific elements and aspects of the provision of telecommunication assistance, such as termination of assistance and settlement of disputes. It requires States to make an inventory of the resources — both human and material — available for disaster mitigation and relief, and to develop a telecommunication action plan that identifies the steps necessary to deploy those resources.

Explaining further, Messrs Ghaly and Zavazava said, the convention requires a requested state party to the Convention to put in writing, prior to the arrival of telecommunication assistance in a disaster zone, the fees it expects to receive or have reimbursed.

And to avoid excessive charges, the fees are to be based on an agreed model of payment and reimbursement, as well as on other factors such as the nature of the disaster, natural hazard and the particular needs of developing countries.

In fulfilling the objectives of the Convention, the Operational Coordinator at OCHA, will seek the cooperation of other appropriate United Nations agencies, particularly the International Telecommunication Union.

The 17-article, legally binding international treaty, was unanimously adopted on June 18, 1998, by the delegates of the 75 countries that attended the Intergovernmental Conference on Emergency Telecommunications (ICET-98), hosted by Finland in Tampere, about 200 km north of Helsinki.

The Treaty was then open for accession, requiring 30 ratifications to come into effect.

Troublesome, however, is the absence of Nigeria in both
the signing of the convention in June, 1998 and its ratification in January 8,
2005.

Like the ITU scribe recently said at the African preparatory conference on World Summit on the Information Society (WSISAccra 2005), many more lives should have been saved if appropriate communications were in place, on the Tsunami incident, both within the affected areas and globally.

And with the coming into force of this convention, obviously its a way of making the world a better place.

It is worrisome, however, that out of the 30 nation’s that ratified the convention, only three were from the continent, namely, Kenya, Uganda and Morrocco.

Others countries that endorsed the convention were Barbados, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, El Salvador, Guinea, India, Hungary, Kuwait, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Oman, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden, Tonga and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

States like Nigeria yet to endorse the convention, especially from Less Developed Countries (LDCs), should endeavour to be part of the moment.

This is not because, most disasters occur in LDCs, about 49 countries out of which 33 are in Africa, but it is imperative for them to be part of the globe in all sense of it.

The impact of communications during the Ikeja -Lagos bomb blast in January 2002, cannot be overlooked, but be appreciated.

2 comments:

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