The Humanitarian Times

December 20, 1999



- EAST TIMOR PLEDGED $520M IN TOKYO SUMMIT OF INTL DONORS, FRIDAY. 3 aid frameworks circulated: by the World Bank (for a Trust Fund), by UN OCHA, & the UN Development Group. The $520 exceeded expectations ($300m had been the target), kicked off by a $100m promise from the host, Govt of Japan.

- VENEZUELA VOTED FOR AUTHORITARIAN RULE & TO LIMIT PRESS FREEDOM, last week, ratifying a constitution that abolishes its Senate & concentrates power in the hands of Pres. Chavez. Also this week, shantytowns along the coast near Caracas, built on steeply sloped hillsides, were destroyed in long-inevitable mudslides in 10 days of heavy rain. ~6,000 died (many remain missing) & 70-150,000 left homeless in Venezuela's worst natural disaster in a century.


- MACAO PEACEFULLY PASSED TO CHINESE RULE THIS WEEKEND AFTER 442 YEARS of uneasy tension under Portuguese control; Macao had been the center of violent gang rivalries in recent years which China vowed to suppress.

For decades Macao (pop 450k) has been China's Las Vegas, providing gambling facilities for Chinese from the mainland where gambling was not permitted under Mao. Macao also had been home to tens of thousands of Vietnamese ethnic-Chinese refugees (boat people) who had wanted to reach anywhere except China as their country of first asylum.

- AGREEMENT OFFERS NEW LOW-COST EMAIL TO POORER RURAL COMMUNITIES through low-orbiting satellites, pioneered by Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA), WAVIX, & SSTL, also involving SatelLife.

- PEACEFUL ELECTIONS IN MOZAMBIQUE SEE NARROW EDGE FOR PRES. J CHISSANO in elections where many expected that former rebel group RENAMO would gain the majority in parliament. Now RENAMO disputes the vote count in which large discrepancies were reported by the National Election Commiss.

- G-20 METING OF MINISTERS CONSIDERED NEW ROLE FOR IMF LAST WEEK, to focus more of IMF effort on short-term crisis-mitigation loans, on performing audits to promote transparency, & less on long-term loans which private financial markets can provide.

- NEW REPORT FINDS SEC. COUNCIL IGNORED CHANCES TO PREVENT GENOCIDE in Rwanda in early 1994. The UN-commissioned report by independent investigators also notes the USG's failures to act.

- HEALTH INFO NETWORK FOR ADVANCED PLANNING -"HINAP" - LAUNCHED last week by the World Health Org on the web: It includes health indices, profiles, & analysis, plus outbreak verification on 9 countries: Albania, Angola, Colombia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Uganda.

- Correction to Dec. 12 HT: Jon Bennett's report on North Korea (ODI/RRN) was published in March 1999, not 1998.




The year 2000 will be perceived by many computer software systems incorrectly as the year 1900, leading to computational inaccuracies.

Additional problems may occur in one year's time (Dec. 31) in computers that do not recognize year 2000 as leap year (with 366 days, not 365).

Unexpected impacts will occur where "embedded" computer chips are overlooked in efforts to update ("remediate") software systems. Total costs (losses + remediation) are estimated at ~ $500+ billion. Most Y2K attention focuses on consumer inconvenience such as airport delays, bank closures or appliance malfunction. More serious possible humanitarian disasters have been poorly reported in contrast. Though experts now say there is no reasonable likelihood of accidental nuclear missile strikes, technological disasters are likely, for example related to pipeline & utility malfunctions dependent on logic controllers, distributed control systems, & internal computational databases. Humanitarian disasters will affect the poor the hardest: principally via provision of utilities, water & power to urban poor in transitional & developing countries. Of these, the most likely to suffer harm would be vulnerable elderly living in cold-weather areas of eastern Europe & central Asia should fuel for heating be interrupted for more than a few days. Because of inter- connectedness many sectors - from wastewater treatment to nuclear containment - are vulnerable to problems in upstream sectors (i.e. power transmission). Ocean ports are likely to suffer throughput delays, as will pharmaceutical chains. Romania, Lithuania, Russia (Gazprom in particular), Ukraine, Indonesia, India & China are among the most likely to suffer system overloads & protracted power outages. Secondary to these types of direct risks will be impairment of response, related primarily to disruptions in the telecommunication systems of non-profit aid organizations, the Red Cross & govts.




Non-profits are setting up Y2K monitoring centers, & working with counterparts in different countries to bolster their preparedness. The general principles involve preparing backup storage & backup power supply, for example having stand-by generators to ensure continuous refrigeration for vaccines & blood supplies, or food stockpiles in the event of food trade disruptions. UNDP offers extensive information on risks in developing countries:

The World Bank is offering technical assistance & is encouraging developing countries to adapt national contingency plans: & is supporting, with the UN, the Y2K Cooperation Center:, which provides useful links segregated by sector, region & country. The Global Y2K consortium provides assessment & planning toolkits:, also:

The Intl Atomic Energy Agency provides a clearinghouse on Y2K progress in the nuclear industry: In any countries, computer-based systems are widely used in nuclear fuel cycle facilities, including milling, enrichment, refining, cooling & storage; countries of the former Soviet Union are believed to be the most vulnerable to failed Y2K preparedness. For more technical analysis of risks, see: The electronic industries alliance offers support:, as does the clearinghouse on chemical emergencies:

InterAction now offers chemical plant safety guidance:, valuable for the hundreds of industries using chlorine or caustic soda (chlor-alkali) associated with use of approx 116 toxic or flammable substances. The text explains the numerous potential problems from both "hard failures" (system shutdown) & from "soft failures" (false readings, compounded by manual over-rides & human errors). For software solutions, consider:, or or contract for technical support:




Five key manuals offer practical advice for emergency personnel in the planning or delivering of aid. First, the SPHERE project has just released the second version of its humanitarian standards, including minimum standards, which is being translated into French, Spanish & Russian editions. Also newly published is the second version of the classic UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, which has been completely overhauled. Third, the World Health Organization has released its Handbook for Emergency Operations, complete with floppy disks for reference. Fourth, the UNICEF "Assisting in Emergencies" handbook is about to be re-published by UNICEF, extensively re-written. & fifth, the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance guide, known as the "FOG" (Field Operations Guide), has been in version 3.0 for months (available on the web:

- "HUMANITARIAN CHARTER & MINIMUM STANDARDS IN DISASTER RESPONSE" (2000) by the SPHERE Project (Geneva) is the compendium of principles & obligations to which not-for-profits commit: "we reaffirm our belief in the humanitarian imperative & its primacy" all possible steps should be taken to prevent or alleviate human suffering arising out of conflict or calamity, & that civilians so affected have a right to protection & assistance." For each of 5 sectors -- water, nutrition, food, shelter & health -- this book establishes standards, indicators & guidance notes.

For example, with regard to management of food aid, "physical inventory counts are periodically reconciled with stock balances" & "contracting for goods & services is transparent & fair." The section on health notes "the objective of an emergency intervention should be to achieve a crude mortality rate of below 1 per 10,000 persons per day, & an under-five (age) mortality rate of below 2 per 10,000 per day as soon as possible." Among other tasks to achieve this goal: "on-site supply of measles vaccine equals 140% of the target group.. ..the cold chain is continuously maintained & monitored from vaccine manufacturer to vaccination site." The SPHERE project has the advantage of stemming from operational not-for- profit aid groups, including the Red Cross, CARE, Caritas, Lutheran World Relief, Oxfam, Save the Children & dozens of others who have been involved in numerous rounds of discussions & edits to this book. The SPHERE handbook will be published by Oxfam & also be made available in March on the website:

- " HANDBOOK FOR EMERGENCIES" BY THE UN HIGH COMMISS. FOR REFUGEES (1999 Geneva: UNHCR) sets forth instructions on many key aspects of relief -- from site planning to nutrition, from relations with the media & military to setting up a coordinating body -- in an unusually readable, attractive soft-cover manual with varied graphics, tables, algorithms, & highlighted text, but with no case studies or examples provided. Included are explanations of recently developed emergency "kits", plus the memoranda of understanding with UNICEF, UNDP & WFP.

- "HANDBOOK FOR EMERGENCY FIELD OPERATIONS" BY WORLD HEALTH ORG (1999 Geneva) is more about operations, personnel management & needs assessment than on health care delivery. It explains how to set up a surveillance system, gives reference (lookup) tables & has an excellent catalogue of relevant websites. The accompanying software includes the SUMA (Supply Management System Following Disasters) system developed by PAHO.


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