Strengthening Crisis Information Management in a Networked World: A Call for Vision, Leadership, and Collaboration

Article excerpt

How do we respond? How do we know when to respond? Two fundamental questions drive not only humanitarian relief and aid work, but also all responses to a wider range of emergencies and crises that the United Nations system is geared to prevent, mitigate and help recover from. "The underlying principle of all UN operations is to help save lives, prevent unnecessary deaths and, in cases where mass scale atrocities have been committed, hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. As we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century, we realize that knowing implies having access to and leveraging information and communications technology (ICT), ranging from the web and the Internet through personal computers, to the mobile web through smartphones and Short Message Service (SMS). The human condition is now inextricably entwined with the availability of information online, from basic services to personal shopping, from banking and commerce to education and healthcare. Nations with better ICT infrastructure invariably show better human development indicators and stronger economic prosperity. At the same time, the recent riots in London (fanned by the use of web-based social media and ICT), the growing instances of cybercrime, online hate speeches, identity theft, data loss, surveillance by repressive regimes, and propaganda through digital media are but a few aspects of the flip side of our networked societies.

Recognizing the potential for both good and bad uses of the Internet, ICT4Peace Foundation aims to facilitate improved, effective, and sustained communication between peoples, communities, and stakeholders involved in conflict prevention, mediation, and peace building through better understanding and enhanced application of ICT, including media. It also looks at the role of ICT in crisis management, which is defined for the purposes of this process, as civilian and/or military intervention in a crisis that may be violent or non-violent, with the intention of preventing further escalation of the crisis and facilitating its resolution. This definition, again, covers conflict prevention, peace mediation, peacekeeping and peace building activities, as well as natural disaster management and response and humanitarian operations of the international community. In bridging the fragmentation between peoples and various organizations and activities during different crisis phases, ICT4Peace aims to facilitate a holistic, cohesive, and collaborative mechanism directly in line with Paragraph 36 of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) Tunis Declaration, which was also adopted as part of the WSIS Tunis Commitment in 2005:

  "36. We value the potential of ICTs to promote peace and to prevent
  conflict which, inter alia, negatively affects achieving development
  goals. ICT.s can be used for identifying conflict situations through
  early-warning systems preventing conflicts, promoting their peaceful
  resolution, supporting humanitarian action, including protection of
  civilians in armed conflicts, facilitating peacekeeping missions, and
  assisting post conflict peace-building and reconstruction."

The lCT4Peace Foundation was subsequently established in the spring of 2006 to raise awareness about the Tunis Commitment and to promote its practical realization in all stages of crisis management. The Foundation understood very early on the limitations of the international community in responding to sudden onset disasters and spikes of violence in long, drawn out, complex political emergencies. Much has been written on these shortcomings, ranging from a lack of collaboration and coordination to, increasingly, the challenge of accessing data needed for early warning and response-- data which is often locked in the data centres of private enterprise, bringing with it the attendant challenges of cost impediments in sharing and use.

In 2007, the United Nations Office for the Coordinal ion of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called for better crisis information management at the Global Symposium +5 Information for Humanitarian Action. …