I just finished reading the report “Information and Communication Technology for Peace” released by the UN ICT Task Force at the WSIS in Tunis will relatively little fanfare. The report argues convincingly that “ICT4Peace” is a relatively unexplored international policy area that deserves closer attention.
The full title of the report is “The Role of ICT in Preventing, Responding to and Recovering from Conflict.” Written and compiled by Daniel Stauffacher, Swiss ambassador; William Drake, president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility; Paul Currion, a consultant on humanitarian affairs; and Julia Steinberger, journalist, it is the result of a series of consultations and research conducted by them over the course of the last couple of years.
The report contends that there is a clearly identifiable area of activity that can be labeled ICT for Peace, or “ICT4Peace” as a catchphrase. The authors contend that there is a need for greater coordination and policy coherence among the various ICT activities surrounding conflict prevention, peace operations, humanitarian relief, disaster assistance, and post-conflict peace building and reconstruction.
The report presents a number of interesting examples of how ICTs are used to save lives and increase the peace at the different stages of conflict. I.e.
- Reliefweb: a web-portal of humanitarian information run by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).
- Telecoms sans Frontieres: This NGO builds emergency telecommunications systems in the field to support humanitarian relief operations.
- MapAction: This NGO uses satellite earth imaging, data processing, and locally deployed mapping teams to assist relief missions to supply up-to-date realtime maps of disaster areas to relief operations.
- Martus: a software tool developed by US-based NGO Benetech, that allows users to document incidents of human rights abuses by creating bulletins and uploading them for storage on redundant servers located around the world.
- War Torn Societies Project: seeks to promote reconciliation and social integration among populations in crisis zones through ICTs. In Somaliland, for example, villagers were shown videos of elders from other clans talking about daily problems that are common to all communities, providing non-political messages from a respected source that humanize both sides.
The report concludes with a number of recommendations for further action. In general, the authors contend that there is an ongoing need for high level coordination and dialogue on ICT4Peace issues involving all stakeholders, from NGOs providing humanitarian relief in the field to government policy makers and military leaders.
The WSIS in Tunis lent enormous political support for the use of ICTs to promote development, so-called ICT4D. With the re-newed mandate of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development to oversee the implementation of the WSIS agenda, I hope that this important area of ICT4Peace doesn’t get left by the wayside. But without a specific policy arena for those issue areas to be addressed, that seems to be a likely future.
The full report is available on http://ictforpeace.org.