Friday, January 08, 2010

Social Networking Technology for Emergencies

Cover of New Technologies in Emergencies and ConflictsThe United Nations Foundation has released "New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks" (2009). The full report is available online, as one donw load and by chapter. The report recommends remove regulatory barriers for better early warning and emergency response and putting more resources into
local preparedness. The call for standardisation of communications is timely, including a global standard for cell broadcast technologies. Australia is entering another bushfire season with limited standardisation of systems at the national level. The report has received some criticism on the Humanitarian ICT discussion list for the breadth of coverage, but such a report can include online a limited amount of material.
  1. Foreword
  2. Acknowledgements
  3. Executive Summary
  4. Introduction
  5. Alerts: Early Warning And Communication Needs
  6. Preparedness: Building Communities’ Resilience
  7. Response: Coordination In Emergencies
  8. Rebuilding: Post-Crisis Services And Development
  9. Recommendations
  10. Endnotes
Executive Summary

Natural disasters and violent conflicts have always been part of human existence. But the number of humanitarian crises has been rising in recent years. Moreover, disasters strike
most frequently, and with the most devastating impact, in the least developed countries. These countries also have the weakest communications infrastructures, which poses a
particular challenge to governments, aid agencies, and the affected population at every stage of a crisis, from the runup to a disaster through to long-term reconstruction.

There have been dramatic advances in communications technology: in the number of new technologies, the mobility and range of functions available, and the spread of these technologies. Growth has been particularly strong in the penetration of mobile phones and more recently the uptake of social networking websites including Facebook and Twitter. One important change is a shift from one-to many forms of communication, such as television and radio, to many-to-many forms of communication, such as social
networking and crowdsourcing websites, that is changing the way in which information is delivered and exchanged.

Communications advances present an opportunity forhumanitarian organizations to harness modern technology to communicate more effectively with communities affected by disasters and to allow members of those communities to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

People in affected communities can recover faster if they can access and use information. A look at the use of communications technology during disasters in recent years shows
that while it has played a positive role, its full potential has not yet been realized.

Moreover, governments, humanitarian agencies, and local communities face challenges and risks associated with modern technological innovation. These include:

• Information flows must be two-way to be effective — from the external world to the affected community, but also from those affected to the agencies seeking to help
them in useful ways.
• Information will not be used unless it is trusted. The utility of any technologies will depend on the social context. People are a vital part of the communication system. ...

Recommendations ...

Remove regulatory barriers
Some regulatory barriers to effective early warning systems and emergency response remain, despite the great progress made in these aspects since the Indian Ocean tsunami. We identified:
• the need for further standardization of communications in emergency situations—such as a global standard for cell broadcast technologies, for example;
• the need to develop standards applicable to existing and future systems for delivery of early warnings or alerts;
• the need for inter-operability between public networks and networks dedicated to emergency communications; and
• a need for priority access by emergency services personnel to communications.

Furthermore, governments must extend the regulatory framework to new and emerging technologies. Regulation is lagging behind innovation. In particular:
• the international community needs to create a legal framework enabling the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, which hold great promise for collecting information for
use by humanitarian agencies but are currently unable to be deployed due to legal uncertainties.

Put more resources into local preparedness
People-centeredness has been one of the themes of this report. The people affected by an emergency are in the best position to know what is happening and what they need.

Preparedness requires long-term investment by humanitarian organizations, including investment in public education and capacity building in local media.

Information provision should be recognized as a standard part of both preparedness and aid delivery, and might include:
• preparation of off-the-shelf material agreed on between humanitarian and aid agencies (what to do in an earthquake, basic sanitation advice, for example);
• training humanitarian agencies in communication skills, including receiving and using feedback from communities; and
• the inclusion of a wind-up radio in aid packages.

Information needs to be collected and deployed to be effective. Often this will be done by official agencies, but their responsibilities may be overlapping and uncoordinated.
Preparedness also requires the international humanitarian community to be able to act themselves in a coordinated way on the information and analysis enabled by these emerging systems.

Agencies should share best practices with each other.
Agencies developing tools for use in disaster preparedness and emergency relief should also include consideration of their potential for communities’ post-disaster or postconflict needs, to leverage the investment of resources as effectively as possible.

Governments—especially in developing countries where access is not ubiquitous—also need to consider enhanced access to communications and investment in infrastructure, among all the competing demands for resources.

Leverage new media and crowdsourcing
Some of the most promising applications of new technology in emergencies use social media, often through crowdsourced applications.

As this report has shown, the issue of authentication is a key barrier to overcome. The development of methods and applications for verification of crowdsourced information
should be a priority. The humanitarian community can support the development of innovative platforms that addres the issue of verification as well as provision of information by users.

At the same time, it is important to ensure that communications technologies can offer their users a sufficient degree of anonymity and protection. This will depend on
technological solutions but also, importantly, the legal framework and public debate about the risks as well as benefits of anonymity. ...

From: New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks, United Nations Foundation, December 2009

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

ICT Essentials for Government Leaders

The Academy of ICT Essentials for Government Leaders Module Series is a set of training materials provided free by the United Nations Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communications Technology for Development (UN-APCICT). There are eight modules, each provided as a PDF document of about 100 pages (1Mbyte). The material is under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, so it can be freely used and modified.
  1. The Linkage between ICT Applications and Meaningful Development
  2. ICT for Development Policy, Process and Governance
  3. e-Government Applications
  4. ICT Trends for Government Leaders
  5. Internet Governance
  6. Network and Information Security and Privacy
  7. ICT Project Management in Theory and Practice
  8. Options for Funding ICT for Development

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the United Nations

Dr Anna TibaijukaDr Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN-HABITAT will be speaking on "Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the Global Financial Crisis: The role of the United Nations Human Settlements Program" in Sydney, June 18, 2009 at 6:30pm (tickets required).

The year 2007 was a turning point in human history as it saw half of humanity already living in towns and cities. By 2030, three quarters of the world’s population is projected to be urban.

The bulk of this rapid urban population growth will take place in developing countries, countries which are least able to cope resulting into massive growth of slums and squatter settlements. Today close to one billion people or 32 per cent of the Worlds urban population currently lives in slums under life threatening conditions where they are directly affected by both environmental disasters and social crises.

On the current global economic and financial crisis it has to be noted that it was sparked off by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which itself was the outcome of one-dimensional approach to housing and a “one-size fits all” model of housing provision. It did not look at how to improve incomes to make housing more affordable. It did not look at how to make housing cheaper so as to make it more affordable. It did not, above all, look at the need to have a mix of tenures whereby poor people could access decent housing through the rental market as well as through home ownership.

Financial prudence and banking principles were simply thrown out the window. Financial engineering became the “in game” as different so called innovative products from brokers outcompeted with each other. Commissions and bonuses were collected, CEO payments rose into the stratosphere but the risk remained on the one end with the borrowers and at the other end with the shareholders across the globe.

With regard to climate change, it has to be noted that it is no coincidence that it has emerged at the forefront of international debate precisely at the same time, and virtually at the same pace, as the world becomes urbanized. This is because urbanisation brings about irreversible changes in our production and consumption patterns. How we plan, manage and live in our growing cities determines, to a large extent, the pace of global warming. This is because 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities, and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from urban areas. Roughly half of these emissions are caused by the burning of fossil fuels for urban transport; the other half comes from energy to heat or cool our buildings and to run our appliances. These are the hallmarks of our built environment and our quest for quality-of-life in urban places which have to inform mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change.

Mrs Tibaijuka’s lecture will discuss these issues , with reference to the potential for academic and other partnerships to help address them, and outline the role of the UN-Habitat as it relates to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda with the twin objectives of shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.
Today we are faced with many challenges in our quest for sustainable human settlements but among the most compelling ones are rapid and chaotic urbanization, climate change and the global financial crisis.

Anna Tibaijuka is the first African woman elected by the UN General Assembly as Under-Secretary-General of a United Nations program. She is currently serving a second, four-year term as Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. Since 2002, Mrs Tibaijuka has been instrumental in promoting water, sanitation and slum upgrading globally and in assisting the African Union to establish the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD). She also helped place urban poverty high on the agenda of similar regional bodies for Latin American and the Caribbean, as well as the Asia-Pacific.

In its unanimous decision to re-elect Mrs Tibaijuka for a second term as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, the General Assembly noted her success in forging strategic partnerships with financial institutions for follow-up investment in housing and urban infrastructure. These include the UN-HABITAT $570 million agreement with the African Development Bank and $500 million agreement with the Asian Development Bank.

Mrs Tibaijuka is credited with raising awareness about the global challenge of chaotic urbanization, inspiring a new strategic vision, and significantly enhancing the organization’s performance, management and image.

Prior to joining the UN, Mrs Tibaijuka pursued an active academic career as a Professor of Economics at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is the author of various books and research papers on agriculture and rural development, farming systems, food policy, agricultural marketing and trade, sustainable development, social services delivery, gender and land issues, and environmental economics.
From: "Sustainable Urbanisation, Climate Change and the Global Financial Crisis: The role of the United Nations Human Settlements Program", The University of Sydney, 2009

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Permit Management System for UN Sanction Enforcement

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued a request for Expression of Interest in a "Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law". This will be a computer based system for tracking permits for trade restricted by UN sanctions (presumably to prevent a repeat of the AWB debacle). The system will have a web interface , with exporters able to apply for permits on-line and DFAT staff able to monitor applications and exchange information with other Government Agencies. Users will be able to receive UN updates and notifications via a secure web interface.

This sounds alike an excellent idea. I suggest that DFAT should make the system open source and contribute it free to the UN for their use and to the nations of the world. The UN could use the software to provide the sanctions updates and those countries who are unable to run their own system could use a web based interface to an hosted system.
Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law
Agency Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Category 43230000 - Software
Close Date & Time 10-Jun-2008 2:00 pm (ACT Local time) ...
Publish Date 15-May-2008 ...
ATM Type Expression of Interest
DFAT is seeking Expressions of Interest for provision of a comprehensive electronic management system (software) for trade permit applications under, and enquiries in relation to, UN sanction enforcement laws. It is expected that all information related to a query or application will be located in a central repository. Duplication of data entries will be minimised and managers and processing officers will be required to have access to full histories of queries or applications and any related documentation. The proposed solution will need to have a public web interface available to DFAT and non DFAT users. Government users will be able to request advice or seek information in relation to UN Sanctions beyond that currently on the DFAT site. Exporters, and other clients, will be able to apply for and obtain permits on-line. DFAT Managers will be able to monitor the progress of permits, including applications, throughout their life cycle. DFAT officers will be able to exchange information with other Government Agencies, as required. Users will be able to subscribe to a list of UN updates and receive notifications via a secure web interface. ...

From: Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ATM ID DFAT08-DID-016, 15-May-2008

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

UN Institute for Information Technologies in Education

Thursday, August 02, 2007

UN on Standards for Electronic Documents

The UNDP have issued a five page overview on standards for office documents, which essentially sets out the case for the use of ODF and reports its adoption by governments:
In summary, this APDIP e-Note provides a brief introduction to the history of document standards, explores the different standards for electronic documents, and details the development of ODF. It also looks at how governments worldwide have started to adopt ODF in public administration.

From: Standards for Electronic Documents, e-Note 18, Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, United Nations Development Programme, 2007
APDIP have a list of projects on content and knowledge management applied to development.

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